Agnes’ ‘Drift: Art & Dark Matter’ explores the unseen matter of our universe

Online exhibition asks audience to reflect on their experience with the cosmos

Art collides with physics at the Agnes. 
Supplied by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Although the exploration of dark matter is commonly regarded as a scientific pursuit, a new exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre explores the relationship between astroparticle physics and art.

‘Drift: Art and Dark Matter’ is a residency and contemporary art exhibition curated by Sunny Kerr which revolves around the theorized invisible form of matter. The transdisciplinary exhibit is running online until May 30, 2021.

The project is generated by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, and SNOLAB—a science facility located underground near Sudbury, Ontario.

Behind the actual exhibit is the process of confronting the unknown, which was spearheaded by artists Nadia Lichtig, Josèfa Ntjam, Anne Riley, and Jol Thoms.

The four artists were invited to create new work while collaborating with scientific minds who are searching for dark matter at SNOLAB’s world-renowned facility. Interactions included hands-on engagement with SNOLAB’s research experiments—which revolve around detecting dark matter—along with artist talks, and in-depth discussion with leading specialists.

This is an incredibly unique approach to analyzing the universe—combining artistic visions with scientific data—and the Agnes’ statement on the exhibit offers that art could spark insight for the search into the unknown.

“It is also a moment for reflection on the ways science is attempting to detect dark matter, for reflection on why we want to detect it, and for generally passing dark matter physics through the prism of artistic making-thinking,” the Agnes said on its website.

‘Drift: Art and Dark Matter’ also confronts contemporary movements like “queering” and “decolonizing” practices when framing scientific dialogues. These topics were addressed during the conception of the exhibit in discussions with specialists and scholars across disciplines.

On the Agnes’ website, spectators can virtually walk through the exhibit and interact with the pieces they're most drawn to. The facets of the exhibition vary in terms of style, form, and discipline.

Upon first glance, one of Ntjam’s pieces looks like a fantastical, glowing green cauldron. Ntjam’s “futuristic alchemical vessel,” titled Luceferin Drop, is actually an intricately designed project which takes inspiration from a dark matter detector at SNOLAB.

Thoms explores the strategies of physics in his structural project n-Land: the holographic (principle), which layers complex dimensional objects with flattened 3D scans of SNOLAB experiments.

This virtual exhibition experience is layered with statements that connect with the audience and personalize the art piece.

“Nearly all of the elements in our bodies come from the dusty debris of long-dead stars,” the Agnes says in the exhibition. “Consider how you embody the vast cosmos. Breathe into that.”

The existence of dark matter and the search to understand what this unknown matter is composed of reminds us of our place in the vast universe. ‘Drift: Art and Dark Matter’ contextualizes this search through an artistic lens, binding all disciplines together in an attempt to understand the world we inhabit. 

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