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Gallery 4 curated by Luigia Lonardelli, Vincenzo Napolano, Andrea Zanini scientific advice: Giovanni Amelino-Camelia The closing of the exhibition has been extended to 6 May 2018
Space-time, crises, confines: an exploration via mutually dependent and interconnected key concepts
In 1917, Albert Einstein published an article that gave rise to modern cosmology and transformed the models of the cosmos and the universe hitherto imagined by scientists and thinkers, revolutionising the concepts of time and space. One hundred years on from this publication, MAXXI is dedicating an exhibition to one of the figures to have had the greatest influence on contemporary thinking.
The project is the result of a unique collaboration between the museum, the Italian Space Agency and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics for the scientific side and the Argentine artists Tomás Saraceno for the artistic aspects.
Investigating the connections and the profound analogies between art and science, Gravity. Imaging the Universe after Einstein recounts the developments of the theory of relativity in the current vision of the universe and the fascinating spin-offs it is still producing in the field of art.
Through the involvement of international artists, the exhibition pays tribute to the scientist who radically altered our knowledge and perception of the universe.
Immersive artistic and scientific installations, iconic artefacts and simulations of experiments drawing us closer to the essence of the scientific innovations introduced by Einstein and revealing the underlying depths of the known universe, but also the mechanisms that bind together all those searching for knowledge, in a collective process in which artists and scientists play roles of equally fundamental significance to society.
Einstein’s new understanding of space and time is based on a fundamental principle: the speed of light is a universal constant. No matter how quick one can move, its value — namely 300,000 kilometres a second — will always remain the same. However, this idea has counterintuitive consequences. If the speed of light is always constant, space and time must be the ones to change based on the observer. Moreover, space and time are no longer separate, independent aspects of reality, but form part of a single entity, a sort of four-dimensional “space”: spacetime. In spacetime, the speed at which one moves defines the perspective from which they look at the world and the way in which they experience time. The relativity of measurement is the object of 3 Stoppages Étalon, an artwork that saw Marcel Duchamp randomly create his own unit of measurement. The artwork The Way Things Go, by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, focuses on the strict concatenation of cause and effect phenomena by showing an endless chain reaction of apparently insignificant events. Finally, Tomás Saraceno invites visitors to the exhibition to join his Cosmic Concert, which unveils the invisible fabric of cosmic connections underlying the universe. Time becomes intuition in the 163,000 Light Years video, where a still picture of the starry sky is but the crystallised image of the past, which appears identical to our present owing to the effect of the high, albeit finite speed of light.
Allora & Calzadilla, con la collaborazione di / in collaboration with Ted Chiang, The Great Silence, 2016. Courtesy gli artisti / the artists
In every field of knowledge, a crisis, namely the moment when the current vision flakes apart and the most legitimate beliefs collapse, is the necessary premise for the creation of new interpretations and reference models. Even Einstein’s first theory of relativity — known as Special Relativity — responded to a crisis, namely the one experienced by classical physics due to the new discoveries on the propagation of electromagnetic waves and light. It also led to another crisis, namely the one experienced by the Newtonian law of universal gravitation due to the relativistic nature of space and time, which had just been discovered. In order to emerge from this crisis, Einstein completed his new paradigm with the theory of General Relativity. In this new vision, spacetime is an elastic fabric deformed by stars and planets, which leads the other bodies to slide along its curved surface. Thus, gravity is but the manifestation of this mutual interaction between celestial bodies and the cosmic fabric of spacetime. For the audience to better grasp the dynamic and visualise the structure of spacetime, the installations contained in this section provide it with virtual and interactive experiences revolving around the immersive tale of two decisive pieces of evidence supporting the Einstein model: the gravitational deflection of light, which was first observed in 1919, and the discovery of gravitational waves, which was made in 2015, a century after their theoretical conception. The video entitled The Great Silence, which was made by Allora&Calzadilla, is a reflection on the concept crisis, albeit from a different perspective: indeed, it revolves around the actual ability of people to interpret the signs of nature.
Laurent Grasso, The Horn Perspective, 2009
The cosmos has always been the ultimate horizon of our desire for knowledge. The more we have been able to observe it with our artificial eyes, the more its borders have broadened and drifted away from us: witness the discoveries made by use of Galileo’s telescope or its more powerful versions orbiting around Earth. We now describe the universe as “the whole”, while we trace back its origins and predict its evolution. However, our experience has enabled us to understand the unmeasurable scope of cosmic phenomena and the limits of our knowledge. The ambivalent nature of human knowledge inevitably is studied by contemporary artistic research: witness The Horn Perspective installation by Laurent Grasso, which focuses on the ephemeral boundaries among science, fiction, real perceptions, and artistic suggestions, thereby reminding us how difficult it is to decipher and interpret the messages coming from the cosmos.