Lylie Fisher is the artist whose work appears on the cover of Anna’s book Constituents of Matter. We came across her series “In Search of Meaning” when it was exhibited at Fermilab, where Doug worked with physicists to develop computer simulations of particle accelerators.
Lylie Fisher was born in Australia and spent fifteen years there as an artist and arts advocate. She came to the States when San Francisco State University invited her to participate in the International Visiting Artists program. Her experience as Artist in Residence at Weir Farm in Connecticut in 2003 encouraged her to launch Art Harvest, an arts curator and outreach service for the nonprofit community. In 2007, Fisher launched the art and science “In Search of Meaning” series that is currently touring.
Lylie Fisher recently completed three series that have resonance with the political and environmental challenges facing America. The Life Cycle of Frogs series is a testimony to the fragility of amphibians, The Eye of the Storm is a meditation of extremes, and The Lincoln Series is a peaceful reflection on the leader who continues to inspire. You can find more information and view her artwork here.
ART AND SCIENCE, IN PRACTICE
My basic thoughts on the relationship among sciece, art, and culture can be summed up as follows:
Through science, the intelligent search formulates answers to questions of creation.
Through art, spiritual questions are explored and meaning is pondered.
Through culture, humanity organically combines the search and the meaning, creating beliefs.
My art often explores the relationship between human experiences and metaphor. For many years, I have experimented with ideas of cocoons, armor, and symbolic wrappings. For me, these represent a theoretical space of limitation and transformation. My inspiration is to communicate physical and emotional realms, and for more than a decade, I have been grinding liquid gels and pigments into the photographic surface as means of expressing my philosophical landscape. Recently, I worked with found medical slides of cancer cells and incorporated these images into an installation that was then photographed for exhibition. Drawn to anthropological models, I continue to be fascinated with the universal tension between attraction and fear—and how humanity attributes meaning through created and realized certainty.
The “In Search of Meaning” project was developed as part of an Artist in Residency in 2006 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). On first viewing archival bubble chamber images (circa 1960s), I was struck by their simple power. I was drawn to the recurring curve, arch, and spiral lines. These lines are central to the work of particle physics and have clear scientific meaning. As an artist, I saw beauty and elegance. With the “In Search of Meaning” project, my quest has been to draw out the intrinsic beauty of the data, and liberate the images from the pure academic realm.
My artistic theory is that the bubble tracks allow scientists to explore theories of the universe. The space between the tracks is where humanity exists. The color palette represents a unique “tribe” and/or “reality.” Science, for me, is one way that humanity creates a structure of meaning within uncertainty. This depth of color represents the intellectual and emotion space we inhabit.
Everything in the Universe is made from a small number of basic building blocks, or elementary particles, governed by a few fundamental forces. Some of these particles are stable and form normal matter, while others live for fractions of a second before decaying into stable ones. All coexisted for a few moments after the Big Bang.
When discussing this project with physicists, I am struck by the affection scientists have for the bubble chambers. Bubble chamber photographs allowed the scientist to view, like a snap shot, images of their experiments. Now, in the age of sophisticated computer technologies, scientists view experiment results via data modeling. Although powerful tools for interpretation, they lack the intimacy of viewing photographic bubble chamber images. Particle physics is much more than a field of science. It is art. Like art, particle physics deals with the invisible. One portrays emotional and spiritual experiences; the other studies unseen matter and energy. Science is the voice of the rational mind, and art is the reverberation of questioning. Particle physicists, like theologians, wish to understand our beginnings. They want to know how we came about from the great unknown.
For me, there exists a double reality where scientists explore the source of life, the building blocks of the universe, that is parallel to philosophical pondering on the meaning of life. These are root questions that people return to, whether through art or science. Honoring the integrity of the bubble chamber experiments and the information that is communicated within the raw archival images, I ensured the actual bubble tracks, the white lines, have remained unadorned and unaltered.
Launched mid 2007, the eleven original artworks to date have toured the following places: SLAC; Fermilab; the University of California, Davis; George Washington University; and The National Museum of Abruzzo and Galileium in Italy, hosted by Italian National Physics Laboratory in Gran Sasso and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Images from this series have been selected for many science-based book covers, and have been reproduced for a number of academic and literary publications. Cambridge University Press features an image on the front cover of the forthcoming physics textbook Elementary Particle Physics.
Visit Lylie Fisher’s website at http://www.lyliefisher.com.
For some basic information about bubble chambers and the images they create, look at CERN’s teaching materials here.