Discovering how to split the atom is the same as splitting the entire world. It would not surprise me to see a stone melt into thin air and become invisible. Science seems to be annihilating; its most solid foundations were merely an illusion.
Wassily Kandinsky, 1913
The late 1800s and dawn of the 20th century the Prussian city of Munich would prove inspirational for discoveries in fundamental physics and the future of CERN. Max Planck and Albert Einstein were fellow Münchner Kindl (or Munchkins) who grew up and were educated there in the latter half of the 1800s. Consciously and subconsciously the city was absorbed into their childhood. However, it was not only in science that Munich would give rise to new ways of seeing the world. Not long later in the same city, artists Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Marcel Duchamp were laying the foundations for what would go on to redefine art history.
The overlapping nature of these intuitions in the science and arts were no simple coincidence. They were both united by a move away from the retinal, superficial and external preferring to find clarity beneath the surface and behind the scene. Truth in art for Kandinsky could only come from ‘an inner life and inner relationship’ a sentiment being echoed in sub-atomic science.
They experienced a Munich undergoing its own transition inwards brought about by rapid industrialisation. The workers clock of sunlight and seasons was replaced by the factory clocks that capitalism demanded. The urban-scape was visibly and audibly transforming with the expansion of railways, tramways and automobiles. The population of Munich tripled from 1880 to 1910. Like a fractal, as time and space turns inwards so too will those they contain.
From my artist’s eye view, this chapter in history represents a shift from a more abstract state to one which is material. The abstract is exemplified by freer spatial movement and externalised interactions, whereas in the material space is more limited, time more empirical and relationships more intra-centric. The idea that things can be expressed in terms of material and abstract identities and the relationship between the two lies at the heart of my art practise. The shifts between these states are fundamental to the architecture which constructs our physical and social landscapes. Intangible matter constantly crystallises and sculpts to function in a material world. But the process also happens in reverse returning the material back to the abstract. We see it in simple physical objects, a wooden log decomposing and blending with the soil and atmosphere. But it also take place on conceptual levels such as socio-politics as we are currently seeing with the shift from liberalism to populism. Understanding these identity shifts may be fundamental to our existence and I have spent years observing and expressing matter’s identity in this way to try and understand when and how they transform into one another’s territory and the influence they have.
What mesmerises me most however, is the zone of overlap where these identities shift from one to the other. It became increasingly clear that this zone was mysterious, invisible and elusive. How could something so profoundly present be so profoundly absent? Was it even possible to access and detect directly? Or are these overlaps only a deduction that are inferred vis-à-vis consequences, by-products, impressions and post-event occurrences? An ongoing series of artworks eludes to this phenomenon. They centre around features and objects that are symbolic to the idea of an overlapping zone - doors, windows, curtains, surfaces and skins. Each time the cause is completely removed and all that is visible is its effect or aftermath - a shadow, reflection of sunlight or gust of wind.
I continue to explore this this through sculpture, installation, photography, performance and video over a diverse range of subject matters which including crude oil, the financial markets, the law, birth, food supply and digital technology.
More recently I have undertaken research to think about its application in relation to particle physics as it occurs to me that there are a number of areas where fundamental physical processes also seem to revolve around a similar and equally mysterious overlapping zone when the identity of particles transform. One question I would wish to get my teeth into is whether this vision extends to the Higgs Field. At first sight it would appear to do so as it also manifests the qualities of an invisible, undetectable assumption. But more research is needed. Could the ingredients that make up particle physics also be expressed in terms of material/abstract states? How might this help explain existing findings and predict future outcomes? Could the relationship between these states be mathematically quantifiable and theorised into an equation? The aesthetic and form of particles could be as revealing as its empirical measurements. The transformation in terms of mass that particles undergo when they interact with the Higgs field appears to be expressing the same identity shift as any other phenomenon which moves between abstract and material identities.
Dark matter, dark energy and anti-matter also appear to manifest a strong material/ abstract conversion and I am fascinated to see whether a similar enigmatic ’black box’ zone is associated with them and how this might be expressed in an artistic language. In other areas matter reverts back from the material to an abstract dimension as leaves return to the earth or life becomes memory. What form do decayed particles express how do they merge into their surroundings? I have been exploring the notion that over the past three generations, we have been witnessing an age of accelerated abstractification in terms of time, space, matter, culture and politics. Has there been a similar trajectory regarding fundamental physics?
The pre-Socratic Greek mathematician and philosopher Anaximander was an early proponent of science with a particular penchant for cosmogony, the origins of the universe and speculated on the possibility of multiverses. He was perhaps the first of the Greeks to suggest a geometric cosmic order that the universe, just like societies, is governed by laws. Pythagoras counted amongst his pupils.
Anaximander articulated the ‘apeiron’ - a limitless, infinite, formless and indefinite state which he believed lay at the beginnings of the universe’s construction. From this primordial, timeless and chaotic mass, he claimed, arises substance and form from which everything we perceive comes from. Anaximander is describing a process of abstrocrystalisation - when something shifts from an abstract state and becomes palpable to a material dimension. Physicist Max Born would later use the word to describe Heisenberg’s idea that fundamental particles despite all of their different quantum states and identities essentially come from the same primordial substance.