Particle physics art

Art Exhibits to Check Out in New Westminster, BC

If you thought physics was dry, New Media Gallery’s Indivisible exhibition in New Westminster might change your mind. A group of four artists transformed cosmic particles and radio waves into interesting works of art. Here’s how a scientist and an art expert saw it differently.

The ongoing art exhibition Indivisible at the New Media Gallery includes exhibits that oscillate between art and science. One of them is a detector that lights up whenever it comes into contact with muons – the only particles from space that make it to earth, according to the exhibit’s description.

The show also includes a fluxgate magnetometer, which records the Earth’s magnetic field and projects it as an animated pen-and-ink painting on the wall; a video installation of colliding matter and antimatter that looks like a Jackson Pollock painting in black and white, and more.

So, science or art?

“It’s art working with science,” said Laura Marks, a philosopher and scholar of new media and film, and Grant Strate Professor at Simon Fraser University, noting that the exhibit features art which is based on pure scientific data.


When Monika Stachura, research scientist at TRIUMF, the Canadian particle accelerator center, and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, saw the exhibit for the first time, she felt like she was seeing a demonstration of “science rather than art.

“But then I had this phenomenal discussion with Sarah [Joyce, director-curator at New Media Gallery], and she walked me through the artistic side of it. And that dialogue was so incredibly important because it made me realize where she was coming from. And, all of a sudden, I started seeing these pieces from a different perspective.

Both Marks and Stachura spoke about their perceptions of the art exhibit during the Indivisible: Imagination Dialogue conference, moderated by Sharad Kharé, founder of Human Biography, who has documented such renowned figures as the Dalai Lama and Meryl Streep, among others.

Can art and science coexist?

“People tend to view physicists, and scientists in general, as extremely logical, extremely rational people.”

This is not entirely true; scientists and artists have more in common than is commonly thought, according to Stachura.

When it comes to creating something, “I think they [scientists and artists] start with a very similar feeling. In a way, they start with curiosity and wonder – you wonder how the universe works, you wonder about life, about the nature of why things happen a certain way. And how you express what you’re working on can take a different path. It can be artistic, but it can also be more fundamental – that’s what we do in science.


But scientists often struggle to build relationships with the general public. That’s why she considers the work of the artists in this particular show “phenomenal”, as they have found a way to attract audiences to science.

There is a common belief that art and science cannot be together, but “this exhibit is the opposite of that,” she said.

“This [the exhibition] shows how both [art and science], even if they seem to take two different highways, go in the same direction; they have the same goal, they’re actually trying to appeal to the same crowd.

Art helps to feel the things that are invisible

What makes the works relatable to a physics-unaware crowd is that they’re visually striking, appeal to the senses and, as Marks said, “invite empathy” – even with particles. subatomic and wavelengths you can’t see otherwise.

They let us imagine that we are in the position of this matter colliding with antimatter, or this cosmic particle that has found its way to earth from space, she added.

And, since it’s all science-based, the artwork also gives a sense of confidence that “what I see, and in one case, what I hear, is a direct translation of something happening either at the level of vibration that I cannot feel in my body, or at a scale of particle activity that I cannot perceive.”

“I feel such gratitude because the artwork makes them present to me…you know, I’m present with these electromagnetic frequencies or with these muons visiting the earth.”

The Indivisible exhibition, organized in partnership with the Swiss Consulate in Vancouver and Arts at Cern, is on view until August 14 at the New Media Gallery, 777 Columbia St.