‘In the Beginning…’ Residency Status Report #1 – Swarm

‘In the Beginning…’ Residency Status Report #1 – Swarm

After almost a month of process work, logistical adventures, research and deep thought, I feel I am coming to a pivotal point for this residency which is, of course, the exciting part. So far I have been researching the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy). I have been reading Brian Greene’s book ‘The Fabric of The Cosmos’ where he discusses the nature of time and how it does not flow but seems to have a direction, the concept of entropy (in great detail), and introduces the concept of Inflationary Cosmology.

For me, research creation is not just about drawing inspiration from research but also about processing exactly what it is I have learned in my research by creatively responding to it. Though my inspiration comes from research, I always make sure to do base level fact checking to make sure that my art is still based in reality because it is easy for an artist to get lost in creative thought. However, since I am an artist, I do tend to deviate a little because art is also about creativity – but I always do this carefully.

Here is what I have been creating so far as a response to my research:

I have been doing performative art pieces about the Big Bang including the one pictured below titled ‘Big Bang of the Heart’ which conveys the ‘initial singularity’ that the universe expanded from as my own heart. I mean the ‘soul’, not the organ, hence the placement in the center of my chest.

I adapted the title from Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. I see it as a positive turn on the songs head. Instead of my heart being cast in a shadow by heartbreak, it is the ‘initial singularity’ which is about to expand into the entire universe. For the record, I’m not a fan of Bonnie Tyler or that song, or that particular era of music. I don’t need to be in order to reference it. It just happened this way, it was best for the piece and what I was conveying with it.

I have also done a performative photograph (or a machinimagraph) as my Second Life avatar, MultiverseTraverser1, listening to the Cosmic Microwave Background (as captured by the ESA / Planck Collaboration in 2018). This something I actually do a lot in real life via listening to FM radio static. In 2018 I attended a lecture given by Prof. Cynthia Chiang, organized by the student group AstroMcGill, in which she informed the audience that radio signals from the universes first stars can be found on FM frequencies between 50-150 MHz. Later on, I also learned that some of this static also comes from the Cosmic Microwave Background, anywhere from 7-1002 MHz. The signals are quite small, about 1:100 ratio, but it’s still enough to capture my interest. This drove me to begin collecting old radio receivers and listen to static – it’s painful but worth it and I am on a slow journey to creating meaningful work with it.

I will continue doing performative photographs both as my virtual and physical self throughout the rest of the residency. I’m really enjoying the concept of “from the IRL to the URL” in working with my avatar which involves taking performative selfies and then making similar images as my virtual self. I see it as a fun way to respond to the circumstances of our times, more specifically the mass migration from the physical to the digital due to the pandemic. I think bringing in the human element also draws the ‘far out’ nature of these ideas closer down to Earth which may make people care about it more, maybe even the same way I do.

Another way I am working with the Cosmic Microwave Background is by taking video samples of TV static and considering them to be literal samples of the CMB (it is, after all, as close as you can get to taking a sample of it). I see it as working with the CMB as an artistic material, in the true spirit of AstroFibres. This can also be done sonically with radio static.

I recently learned that much like with radio static, 1% of analog TV static (“snow”) is also latent radiation from the beginning of the Universe (the CMB). I already have two CRT televisions (older TVs that use the tube) which I found on the side of the road. It took some running around and research into CRT Television technology to make sure the television I am using uses an analog TV tuner, not a digital TV tuner – this was especially important to me due to the fact that its only analog TV tuners that pick up radiation from the CMB. Luckily I found that the TV I have been using uses an analog tuner, making my Early Universe signals authentic!

Since it may be of interest to some, I am linking my favorite article on the topic. It is old, but that is because TV switched from analog to digital a very long time ago. The article’s age does not negate the factuality of the matter.

Due to the nature of the subject of the Early Universe, I cannot help but dive into and unpack the concept of time. It’s inevitable! I have formulated a few creative responses to ‘the problem of the now’ and the idea that time does not flow. These are all inspired by Brian Greene’s words. I wish I could quote the entire chapter to truly convey the affect they had on me, but one would have to read the book to really understand. Regardless, here is a quote that explains it pretty well in a short paragraph:

“Events, regardless of when they happen from any particular perspective, just are. They all exist. They eternally occupy their point in spacetime. There is no flow. If you were having a great time at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999, you still are, since that is just one immutable location in spacetime. It is tough to accept this description, since our worldview so forcefully distinguishes between past, present, and future. But if we stare intently at this familiar temporal scheme and confront it with the cold hard facts of modern physics, its only place of refuge seems to lie within the human mind.”— Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos

In other words: it’s all happening! 😄

The Cosmic Microwave Background and the concept of time are all important elements to the overall point of this residency. My initial research question is “What was the Early Universe like?” which has led me to other questions. On my reading adventures (followed by periods of deep thought) I have found myself zeroing in on the concept of Entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I understood the basic concept at first but not in full detail. Brian Greene explains entropy really well in his book.

The new questions I have been led to are:

Did the universe begin in a state of low entropy?
Are we living in a high entropy universe?
Was the Early Universe calm?

Or is it the total opposite?

The answers to these questions will determine the nature of the artworks I create in the next month, as it is my goal to create works that portray the nature of the Early Universe.

As an artist, and I know many scientists have experienced this too (especially Einstein), I sometimes get attached to assumptions or ideas of theories and what I want them to be. I have noticed that this happens to a lot of people with the concept of Entropy in particular. I am learning through my practice (especially this residency) how to detach from any desired outcome and let the research guide me to where I need to end up – much like a scientist would.

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