Art and contemporary Physics

Theoretical physics has often been the source of new and exciting concepts in contemporary culture.  This was most in evidence a turn of the twentieth century when physicists began the development of relativity and quantum mechanics. These ideas both provided a deep alternative way of viewing the world far removed from our usual notions of perception. They challenged our view of reality by making space and time malleable concepts and by pushing the observer to the forefront of our description of nature. The art world readily embraced these ideas as they resonated with emerging ideas in both music and the visual arts. Over the years, these ideas have deeply penetrated into our cultural consciousness with ideas of quantum mechanics such as the uncertainty principle and wave particle duality part of the contemporary cultural landscape. 

Art & Contemporary Physics

Now in the 21st century theoretical physics faces new challenges and has evolved in a new direction. The leading view on our description of nature goes by the name of string theory. Its development began around 30 years ago with the simple idea that the basic building blocks in nature have spatial extension- like strings. This simple idea has shown to have exceptionally deep consequences. String theory leads to ideas of hidden dimensions of space, of strangely curved spaces and of mathematically intriguing ideas of a new form of geometry.  One the most remarkable concepts is the idea of a duality. This is an ambiguity or relation between very different descriptions of nature. In “T-duality”, in the most simple setting, a large circle becomes equivalent to a small circle thus providing a pair of related objects. This idea can be extended to produce ideas such as “mirror symmetry” where different complicated curved shapes become equivalent. This “mirror symmetry” provides a surprising relationship between geometric objects that traditional views of geometry miss. Other notions such as: noncommutative geometry; holography; hidden dimensions; mathematical aesthetics and much more naturally lend themselves to the art world hungry for conceptual challenges. Dr David Berman is a reader in theoretical physics at Queen Mary, University of London. He is a leading figure in M-theory and has worked on String theory for the past 15 years. He has published over 35 papers on string theory and is currently producing a book for Cambridge University Press on “An introduction to M-theory”. He has collaborated with various artists on aspects of string theory and given talks at the: the Royal College of Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art and Tate Modern. He also was part of the London Frieze 2009 Cartier award winning piece with artist Jordan Wolfson.