Artists and Scientists Collide at CERN

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Sound artist Bill Fontana recording sound samples at CERN
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On any given day, 2,000 scientists and engineers work at the European Nuclear Research Center (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. They’re analyzing data coming out of the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator, which is trying to recreate the Big Bang in a series of tunnels underground.

It's not the kind of place where you would expect to find artists. But this summer, three artists who make up the digital arts collective spent several weeks there as part of CERN’s artist-in-residence program. When they first arrived, they were "bombarded with a lot," says member Marc Dubois. Their plan was to try to translate the science into an interactive art installation that could evoke the sense of awe that the scientists get from their experiments.

Since 2011, dancers, musicians, and filmmakers have spent time at CERN through a program called Collide@CERN. "I was surprised how much [the scientists] had the capability to talk to me about their ideas and their work,” says Jan Peters, a German video artist who joined the residency program in 2013. Peters went underground while the collider was shut down and filmed about 100 hours of footage inside the giant tunnels.

He and other artists gain a lot from the experience, but they also challenge the scientists. Theoretical physicist Subodh Patil, who worked with American sound artist Bill Fontana, says the experience changed his way of thinking about artists. "Bill had an almost explorer-like streak about him, which would have qualified him to be a scientist as well in another life."

Filmmaker Jan Peters collecting footage during his residency at with CERN’s ATLAS team


An image by filmmaker Jan Peters of the CERN grounds, taken during his residency


Sound artist Bill Fontana with his CERN scientist “inspiration partner,” Subodh Patil


Simon de Diesbach, Laura Perrenoud and Marc Dubois make up design collective, fragment-in


The premier of 'Quantam Dance,' by Gilles Jobin and Juilius von Bismarck, with a backdrop image of the CMS detector

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