An Artist in Science

This past year has been one of the most amazing years of my life as an artist.  The quantum physicists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) at the University of New South Wales have very graciously welcomed me into their space to interpret their groundbreaking work as art.  What is incredible about this opportunity is that I came away realising that behind the remarkable ideas explored at this institute are generous and inspiring individuals who love what they do and have inspired me every step of the way to take my work to places I could not have foreseen.  Below is my story as to how I came to be there.

 

It was as an artist that I fell in love with science again. Don’t get me wrong. I always loved science.  Ever since my biology teacher showed me an image of a chicken; a fish and a human embryo – revealing how at the early stages of development they are almost indistinguishable.  For the first time in my life – from science –  I saw that all life is connected. I needed science for that. I wanted to devote my life to discovering deeper patterns like that. And I did.  For years.  I needed those years to teach me that I was not a scientist.  I loved science, but I was not a scientist. I love the rigour; the logic, but that is not where my heart resides. So. Just like that.  I became an artist. It took me years doing that too, to discover that this was another path to discovering patterns. So what is it with these patterns?  Are the patterns of science different from the patterns in art? How do they connect with each other? How do they talk to each other? It is only in the last 100 years that art and science stopped talking to each other; became alienated from each other. Both endeavors are the poorer for this. My mission is to see those worlds collide (paraphrasing now from Arthur Murray’s book, Colliding worlds – a very influential book because in it, it speaks of the early forays (over the last 20 years) of artists treading into the world of science). Now I inhabit both these worlds.  At my best, I don’t know which I am. Artist? Scientist? The distinction dissolves.  A wall collapses.

I recognised that I could spend the rest of my life doing art about science. But so what? I could shout it from the hilltops but who is going to listen? That is when I realized – I need to take my artist self into the world of science.  Inhabit the scientist’s ideas. As an artist. Filter them through the artist aspect. Start them off from a different place. Then the work must emerge in a stormy collision between these two galaxies of ideas – and then see what phoenix rises.

To this end, the last year at the incredible CQC2T, has been the culmination of my bifurcated journey. That institution was a good place to start.  They are world leading innovators in the quest to develop the world’s first quantum computer. They are doing their experiments using Silicon since they recognise that when this goes to industry, industry already knows Silicon.  Landing there was daunting, but the thrill of being there – the possibilities – far outpaced the fear of being there. I basically turned CQC2T into my second home. I would go there once or twice a week.  Meet with them; Immerse myself in their discussions; observe them work; bring them to the studio – to reciprocate.  Have scientists populate a studio; talk science in an artspace; sketch out ideas, not on a smartboard, but a canvas. We took it a step further and set up an artwork for the scientists to do. An experiment.  What happens when scientists do art? What emerges?

I see this as the first phase of this journey.  This first phase fired my brain; challenged my heart and my mind.  Took me to places where I have never been; but that I had unknowingly longed to go to. About a dozen artworks emerged over the year.  Diverse pieces all talking to and inspired by Ideas that underpin the world of Quantum Physics and Quantum Computation.  My work is never preconceived.  Its narrative must unfold on its own terms – in a tension with my goals and aims. I love to see what unfolds and how it informs my goals.  The story it tells. The result of this first phase is an exhibition of artworks inspired by this collaboration, called Schrodinger’s bird. We all know Schrodingers cat.  The cat which, when unobserved is in all possible states.  Both dead and alive, until it is observed then it is one or the other. This is his bird. It is flying in several different worlds simultaneously; which world? At its best, it is impossible to tell.

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