Photo London Talk – John Berger Tribute “Art, Poetry and Particle Physics”

The latest in our series of pre-Fair talks takes the form of a tribute to John Berger featuring a special screening of Art, Poetry and Particle Physics followed by a conversation between Ken McMullen and Michael Benson.

John Berger was an artist, poet, critic, novelist (even fleetingly a photographer) and his writings on photography and photographers – ranging from Henri Cartier-Bresson to August Sander and Jitka Hanzlová – were brilliantly original examinations of the form.

At the turn of the Millennium, Photo London Director Michael Benson, teamed up with the acclaimed independent film director Ken McMullen (Partition, Ghost Dance, OXI: an Act of Resistance) to develop a collaborative project with CERN in Geneva. The project they devised, Signatures of the Invisible, brought leading artists together with particle physicists working at CERN. McMullen’s film John Berger – Art, Poetry and Particle Physics arose from the Signatures project.

During the film I recorded things that I felt stood out as memorable. 

Jorge Luis Borge poetry read by John Berger
1. The arrow of time
2. Universe expanding therefore time is forward

3. The point where time stops

4. The politics of research ( pure research) the chasm between rich and poor. Art and science transcend survival. Far removed badly explained story. Reduction of future ( time evolves very fast) Propagation of light in a vacuum as an electromagnetic wave (air glass, cyntolox)
5. The psychology of risk
6. Necessity and probability (a determination and distribution of probability)
7. Microcosm ( evolutionary models and allow nature to choose) infinitely large is in the infinitely small. Asking nature to decide
8. The art of approximation (over simplification is dangerous) (everything is an approximation) purity is authenticity. Nothing in art is authentic. There is an attempt for authenticity that creates conflict. Duality of light and dark that creates something. A Profound idea contains contradictions. Error and skill never skill alone.To find something you first have to be lost.
9. Beauty and destruction – art is as dangerous as science (now Film and TV)
10. Good and Evil classify good and evil by impulse or outcome. Duality only applies in moments of choice.

At the end of the film Ken McCullen reflected upon the making of the film. He speculated that in the modern climate of arts funding creating such a film would no longer be possible which is a sad reflection of the commercialisation of art and its creation. I felt that watching the film with Ken and Michael gave it more meaning as they provided additional insight into its making that would not have been possible if I had just watch the film.

There were a few things that I found as striking in the film, I had always considered particle physics and Art to be at opposite ends of some form of linear progression but this film has made me think very differently about that relationship. I am realising that without physics and chemistry I would be denied my ability to express myself artistically as I do not posses the skills to be a great painter or musician or poet but I would like to think that through refinement of my photographic skills I can create bodies of work that have artistic merit. Prior to starting the MA I am not sure I would have even gone to watch this film or had the appreciation to take new meaning for its content.

I found the thread of time that transcends the film interesting the amount of time that is required to fully understand particle physics is very akin to the time an artist requires to explore and develop a body of work around a specific subject. Yet we live in  world that expects things to happen in very shorter time periods which Berger suggests diminishes our time to appreciate and value those things. In the film a could repeatedly see icons that relate to time either its shortening of stretching something I do within my own practice through photographic manipulation.  



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