What the eye can't see the heart can't grieve for
8 February – 21 March 2004
Queen Mary University of London, Mile End
A collaborative venture that brought together artist Matthew Tickle and theoretical physicist, Dr Fay Dowker, produced a scintillating artwork that lit up the interior spaces of buildings, in time to the firing of Geiger counters triggered by background radiation. Funded by an EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) grant and supported by Matt’s Gallery and the Queen Mary Physics Department, the piece provokes debate about the relationship between art and science.
One hundred Geiger counters will be involved in the project, each placed in a room on the Queen Mary campus on Mile End Road in the East End of London. Each counter is linked to a photographer’s flash lamp and will be triggered by each particle of radiation detected, causing the lamp to flash and briefly illuminate the interior of the room. The piece will be visible from the street during the hours of darkness.
One view of the work is that it will reveal the presence of the otherwise invisible background radiation that surrounds us. But another scientific view is that it is only where and when a Geiger counter registers a particle that the particle can be said to exist at all. According to that view, the artwork is not revealing but actually creating reality. This so-called ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ of quantum mechanics is the subject of intense and continuing scientific debate. Dowker says, ‘Artists welcome different interpretations of their work but for physicists not to have reached consensus on the meaning of our most successful theory is a crisis.’
The pattern of flashes produced by the counters will be entirely random, apparently an attribute of the quantum world, and the artwork explores the idea that events can occur without deterministic cause. The work also touches on the nature of time: What the eye can only be experienced in time and cannot be captured by a single still image being built up as an accumulation of separate events. Playing on the statement, ‘the opposite of a deep truth is also a deep truth’ by Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, Tickle says of the title of the work: ‘It is both a platitude and a great truth ‘we cannot know what we do not know, and yet we know there are things that we do not know.’
Editors Notes A Geiger counter is in essence a form of amplifier. The Geiger-Muller tube within it detects and magnifies the energy from each particle so that the counter can register it. Often the Geiger counter is connected to a speaker, producing the familiar click each time a particle of radiation is detected. In this project the speaker is replaced by a flash bulb to produce a visible sign that radiation has been detected. The background radiation that will be detected during the project is part of our environment. It is always present but may vary in intensity from place to place and over time. The two main sources of this radiation are naturally radioactive materials around us and cosmic rays.
This exhibition has been funded by EPRSC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and supported by Matt’s Gallery and the Queen Mary Physics Department. For further information and visual material please contact the gallery.
Further exhibitions at Matt’s Gallery
Fiona Crisp, Matthew Tickle and Phillip Warnell
Hyper Passive, In Camera, Shock
7 September – 2 October 2005
15 September – 14 November 1999
18 – 22 November 1998
21 June – 13 August 1995