Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Wordful of worlds

Close your eyes. For one tightly held moment. This moment here. Now. Or there. Back then. A moment ago. A century ago. A day-an-hour-a second ago. No matter. All matter. Any time. Now... Just take it. Make it. Hold it as your own.

Eyes closed now. Pinpricks of light. Picked out. Like a tattoo. Neon bright. Necklace tight. Bright-Light-Tight. Falling before your eyes - a curtain of exquisite rain. Beating time. Drilling down. Deep-earth-down, Until we are here. There. Somehow where. In this tunnel. Beneath your feet.In your dream-sleep. Awake in mind. Beside. Self. I. You. Me. They. Beside. Me. Too.

I am reflecting on the way you can recreate the beauty of particles in writing. This month I am composing a piece for BBC Radio 3 to mark the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider. And somehow, however much I try to stick to the brief - to create a lexicon of terms - I feel it all slipping away, and the impulse is to use words like particles instead - as things which change and mutate, can contain their opposite in the beat of millisecond, meaning and sense appearing only to disappear again.

Like everything to do with particle physics, even if you are a scientist, there is the sheer madness of trying to capture for one fleeting second the invisible and the dichotomy that forces you to face, the looking glass you go through, passing to the other side only to see that you are in two places at once and in no place at all.

Keith Tyson is passionate about science, the way it forges new knowledge and breaks boundaries. In my interview with him in this month's Cern Courier, he makes the case for science and art respecting their differences and being quite separate. And somehow this all makes sense. Because in difference, space and distance, we can fully be ourselves. But both have this in common: art and science are means by which we forge new knowledge and sometimes that is lost in our understanding of them. Whilst science creates knowledge through experiments, tried and tested, art creates knowledge in how we relate to the world, each other and to ourselves.

For artists who engage with science, sometimes the challenge is to stay afloat in the swimming pool of knowledge, as the swiss artist Christian Gozenbach has called it. It is so seductive, that sometimes it feels as if the artist may drown in a pool of understanding, where everything is to be prooved, once the possibilities have been explored.

And so back to my pool of words. How to engage with gravitinos and muons and quarks and convey them to an audience who loves words? Do I dive straight into dictionary definitions, or does the act of writing become the process which, just by being, shows the space-time-gravity of the words which are used to denote particles, some of which, may only exist in the imagination of the scientists who dreamt them up? The creative process...experimenting, exploring, then evaluating...same difference and yet something in between...

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