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'Dark Matter; 95% of the Universe is Missing' Review -Science Gallery London

6th June - 26th August 2019

Tuesday - Sunday, 10:00 - 18:00 FREE entry


The artists featured in the Science Gallery’s third season were given precious little to work with. Dark matter is one of the most notorious unknowns in the world of physics: completely invisible to all forms of electromagnetic radiation, neither emitting nor absorbing other particles and undetectable with even the most cutting-edge of equipment. To add another layer of complication, it is a subject that requires a decent amount of scientific knowledge to fully appreciate – but the works featured in Dark Matter; 95% of the Universe is Missing approach the challenge with wit and style.

There's more to it than meets the eye by Yu-Chen Wang

I was struck by quite how eloquently the exhibition embodies the Gallery’s ethos. A lovechild of art and science, and a space for interdisciplinary discussion, many of the pieces are as much examples of pioneering technology as they are innovative design. The Gallery draws further upon its already close relationship with King’s to inform the exhibition with the cutting-edge research of the Department of Physics. Artist Aura Satz collaborated with season adviser Professor Malcom Fairbairn to produce one of the most absorbing works – Dark Matter Radio, perhaps the most eloquent example of this partnership. A darkened room is encircled with tiny speakers, each playing a different frequency that will change what you hear depending on where you stand - designed, as Fairbairn explained, to reflect how dark matter is believed to exist on a ‘frequency’ inaccessible to our current equipment. It is an utterly bizarre yet captivating experience. I won’t try to describe it when both Fairbairn and Satz themselves struggled in our short tour, but it is certainly one of the highlights of the exhibition.

Mirror Matter by Emilija Škarnulyté

A work of equal technological merit is Agnieszka Kurant’s Conversions #1. Another interdisciplinary collaboration, this time with Fairbairn and Professor Stefan Helmreich of MIT’s Department of Anthropology, Kurant envelopes sociological thought into the already erudite mesh of physics and philosophy. She utilises liquid crystal paint to create flurries of slowly but perpetually shifting colours, responding to data from Internet protest movements read by a complex AI system. The idea is to examine another kind of invisible energy, to create a way to observe what cannot be observed, but on a far simpler level – it is just pleasing to stand back and watch. Understated yet oddly hypnotic, Kurant manages to translate complex ideas with beauty and elegance.

Similarly, innovative pieces are Tomás Saraceno’s recreation of the cosmic web - using actual spiders, no less - and Mirror Matter by Emilija Škarnulytė, which visualises the grand scientific machinery of the future. Andy Holden’s Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, however, is decidedly more familiar. A video piece projected onto two large screens, Holden’s cartoon self breaks-down the common physical laws of the vintage animations that have become monuments of pop culture in recent years. Abstract thought and difficult physics make way for glimpses of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. It presents an alternate universe entirely of our own creation: a nice continuation from Even Darker Matter, also by Holden, which precedes this. Here, stars are replaced by eyeballs and constellations by wisps of other familiar cartoon imagery to form a rather pleasing aesthetic.

Even Darker Matter by Andy Holden

The skilful interweaving of complex science makes this exhibition an educational experience, but for all the cutting-edge research used, it does not once feel too esoteric. Its interdisciplinary understanding is Dark Matter’s, and indeed the Science Gallery’s, great strength. Constantly playing with ideas of sociology, philosophy and science, the artists invite questions of both what is known and what is to come. Certainly pop in and take a look - particularly if you can make it to any of the discussions, performances and workshops enriching this already exciting programme.

Edited by Dimitrina Dyakova, Deputy Digital Editor

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