Monday, August 24, 2015

Art and Light

Celebrating the UNESCO International Year of Light, the Art and Light Exhibition is a collaboration between the Dunedin School of Art and the University of Otago Departments of Physics, Botany, Anatomy, Physiology and Computer Science, hosted by the Otago Museum.

13 artists created visual responses to scientific research in collaboration with 13 scientists.  I was paired with my daughter Petra Fersterer and got some insight into her research on Trapping Ultra Cold Atoms in Optical Lattices. It was complicated, however I found my first link by mimicking her process of writing up notes on a whiteboard - I chose to cover up a large wall with a blackboard.

Paper blackboard made as a way to process information.
Detail from the blackboard showing the aspects of the
science which interested me the most
 Petra's work is purely theoretical so I made some of her notes and diagrams into solar plates and printed them. This seemed like a relevant process, being that solar plate is processed with light and I felt like I was 'trapping' the imagery.

Petra's notes overlaid with a squiggle filter to
echo a Feynman diagram 
Initial printed proofs including the 'fringe' -excess information

Masters student Kris Roberts is undertaking experimental research similar to Petra's. He works in the Neils Kjaegaards Lab and Petra's research is the maths behind what happens in the Lab. I was struggling to visualise what to make until Kris gave me a tour of the Lab. After this I went home and pulled some old camera's apart and the idea of making lenses full of information started evolving.

Neils Kjaegaards Lab, Otago University
 I was particularly fascinated with the notion that atoms change when you observe them and so I started distressing small round mirrors. I had varying degrees of success (i.e. lots of shattered glass) with printing and etching directly onto the glass however I did achieve surfaces that change when you look at them. Thanks to my friend Julie Whitefield who taught me the glass etching and made the stencils.

Pendant/Lens trials. 30mm
etching mirror glass

A challenge of the project for me was using imagery that was theoretical and not something I was initially aesthetically attracted to.  After some time I found my voice and added in things that were optical grids to me, such as a crochet doily pattern. I had a frenzy of over printing and layering some prints towards a point of visual confusion to communicate my difficulty in learning about the quantum world. Discs were then cut from the 
prints and embedded in a bezel with a mirror and a layer of clear resin.

layered prints

Sample of prints before being overlaid with a mirror and resin

detail of pendants - 120 made in total
Petra found the project valuable in having to explain her research to a different audience so they could understand it as she is used to communicating with people having a similar or higher level of physics training as she does.

Child and pendant installation. Thanks to Craig Scott from
 Otago Museum who added a large mirror backdrop.

 The pendants are available for purchase as I like the idea that people wear the pendants, the art is then mobile, a bit like the probability of places where an atom could be – it is in all places, it is here, it is there.   

 Atoms are coherent, here too they shine a bit
 of reflected light on each other.