P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents Signatures of the Invisible, an exhibition born from extensive collaboration between artists of the London Institute, the world’s largest college of art and design, and physicists from CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire in Geneva, Switzerland), the world's largest particle physics center. The exhibition presents artistic responses to scientific phenomena.
The initiative began in 1999 and resulted in a group of artworks first exhibited at Atlantis Gallery, London; and then at Tshinghua University, Beijing; Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome; Centre d'Art Contemporain, Geneva; Gulbenkian Gallery, Lisbon; and now at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center.
Though the events considered in contemporary theoretical physics are often so small that they are known only by mathematical “signatures,” these concepts have changed our understanding of nature. While art is generally concerned with the visible, the artists in this exhibition consider relativity, antimatter, and quantum mechanics, motivating them to experiment and to rethink assumptions about how the universe works. These artists visually animate the interplay between concept and medium and explore previously “invisible” or inaccessible theories of physics such as new perceptions of time and space. The works resulting from these collaborations reach beyond illustration of scientific theories to examine their meanings through metaphoric imagery.
Participants in the exhibition and collaboration include Roger Ackling, who burns lines onto driftwood by focusing sunlight through a magnifying glass; Jérôme Basserode, who presents large metal spinning tops to address the concept of time and its limits; a videotaped conversation between CERN physicists and John Berger, a distinguished essayist, broadcaster, artist, novelist, and critic; Sylvie Blocher, a multimedia artist whose video and film installation pieces explore otherness, representation, and art’s political responsibility; Mel Chin, who will culitvate plants over the three months of the exhibition to extract metal from contaminated soil and subsequently produce a pencil with which he will draw; Richard Deacon, a Turner Prize–winning sculptor whose complex manipulations of surface allude to the human body and industrial techniques; Patrick Hughes, whose painted reliefs create an optical illusion of three dimensions; Gustav Metzger's influential contribution to post-war British art—as an artist, theorist and opponent to the capital system—is reflected in his three Manifestos on Autodestructive Art (1959-61) that propagate the capacity of artworks to destroy themselves after a finite existence. Metzger implies that self-destruction can be due to natural causes such as collisions, decomposition and dematerialization, or mechanisms conceived in collaboration between artists, scientists, and others, whether unpredictable or controlled.
In addition, Ken McMullen, an artist, filmmaker and organizer of the collaboration, has produced works with, among others, the French theoretician Jacques Derrida and the Scottish poet, artist, and gardener Ian Hamilton Findlay; Tim O’Riley, explores the relationship between real and visual spaces, often by incorporating computer technology and optical imaging devices. Paola Pivi, a 1999-2000 P.S.1 Studio Artist from Italy, has a history of collaborating with physicists and experiments with energy fields in her interactive installations; and Bartolomeu dos Santos has produced an impressive body of public art in Portugal, Macau, and Tokyo using etched stone and ceramic tiles. Also included in the exhibition is a project by Leo Villareal, Supercluster, a sequenced light work installed on the temporary scaffolding that envelops P.S.1.
Signatures of the Invisible was organized by Ken McMullen, Michael Benson, and Grace Adam from the London Institute, Neil Calder from CERN, and was designed by P.S.1 Director of Operations Antoine Guerrero, assisted by P.S.1 Project Manager Cornelia Tischmacher.