Connect South Africa is the first international residency of the four year Connect programme launched by Arts at CERN in collaboration with Pro Helvetia. The residency supports two artists for a joint residency, split between CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, and in the array of optical and radio astronomy observatories across rural and urban South Africa, concentrated in the vast semi desert expanses of the Northern Cape. These include SARAO’s MeerKAT radio telescope near the town of Carnarvon, as the precursor to the South African component of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, as well as the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest of a number of telescopes operated by SAAO near the town of Sutherland.
South African transdisciplinary artist Kamil Hassim and Swiss artist Ian Purnell were selected to take part in the tandem residency from a competitive field of applications. The South African phase of the residency is convened by —defunct context, a curatorial project based at the University of a Cape Town by Dr Tebogo George Mahashe. During April 2022 Kamil and Ian will travel around South African to spend time at the two scientific host partner institutions and engage with scientific communities. They will then leave for Geneva in early May to begin their three-week residency at CERN.
ARTIST STATEMENTS & BIOGRAPHIES
Kamil Hassim: If Spacetime were a canvas
The processes surrounding art and music exist both in the realms of physics and the spiritual. Mathematics and music are kindred languages which allow us to explore the universe as human beings. Mathematics allows us to describe the nature of reality and music allows us to connect with it intuitively.
At CERN I would like to learn more about the standard models of cosmology and particle physics and to see how relationships behave across systems at multiple scales – Quantum to Macro. I would then like to apply these understandings to the design of stringed acoustic/electric sculptures which autonomously resonate by means of electromagnetic and sympathetic resonance to produce light and sound.
In South Africa I hope to learn more about the ancient wisdom latent in indigenous and diasporic South African cosmologies and its relevance to the modern physics and astronomy conducted by SARAO and SAAO. Specifically, I am interested in vibrational and resonance based effects of celestial phenomena on one another and how this affects not just the contents of spacetime but the fabric of spacetime itself.
My project proposes the creation of a space within which information beyond the humanly perceivable spectrums is made visible through these instrument activations. The influence of indigenous and diasporic South African spiritual and cosmological sensibilities will inform the process of construction of the instruments themselves and serve to draw a connection between ancient wisdom and modern scientific knowledge. The instruments will synthesise vibrations transmitted through various mediums of spacetime and express sonically and electromagnetically in ways perceivable to the human organism. The space itself will then be painted in light and sound as a kaleidoscope of invisible data made visible.
This project extends my interest in how our relative cultural paradigms and the concepts encoded therein inform the way that we interface with our environments. My recent artistic work has explored how global artistic, scientific and spiritual traditions can be interpreted as proxies for voices of lost or invisible knowledge systems.
Kamil Hassim is a transdisciplinary artist and musician. His work is often expressed through the mediums of instrument making, video, sculpture, digital art, sound, music and painting. His current projects explore how our relative cultural paradigms influence the ways in which we interface with the universe and the kinds of information that become activated through these perspectives. With this interest he is currently thinking through themes of art, science, indigenous knowledge systems and their intersections.
Ian Purnell: The Black Hole Image
Our relationship to the universe is influenced by the images we have of distant galaxies, exoplanets supernova and black holes. Many people are not aware of the fact that most of those images are actually artistic interpretations rendered from information that is not visible to the naked eye, even with the most powerful telescopes.
Black holes are one of the most challenging phenomena to visually render and comprehend. One of the reasons for this is that you cannot see a black hole. To get around this issue, so called “space artists” have opted in countless illustrations for a kind of idealized black hole image sucking up gas or other matter around it. Variations in appearance of these illustrations make clear how relative our visual concept of the phenomenon is. This imagery also correlates with the fictions of outer space we grew up with, such as the science fiction films from the second half of the 20th century.
Does the very image create a black hole in our understanding of the universe? And how can an alternative mental image of the universe be created? I intend to explore questions along these lines in a multichannel video and 3-D printed object installation. In my research process I’m be eager to have conversations with scientists at CERN and the South African Astronomical Observatory, among them the blind astronomer Wanda Diaz. My project will examine and compare various scientific, popular culture and public imaginary renderings, drawings and ideas of black holes to destabilise the notion that “evidence” lies in front of your eyes.
In this playful mapping of mental images I’d like to get an insight into the collective mental image of a black hole and initiate a process of reflection on an alternative imaging of the universe.
Ian Purnell works in the intersection of visual arts, documentary filmmaking and performing arts. He studied experimental film and documentary formats at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne and montage at the University of Film and Television Potsdam-Babelsberg. Ian’s film and installation works are being showcased internationally. His hybrid feature length film in development, Arctic Link, was awarded with the 2020 Berlinale Kompagnon-Fellowship.