Superposition: physicists and artists in conversation


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I have been lucky enough play my part in the construction of a cutting edge particle detector and I feel equally privileged to have played my part in the construction of the Covariance installation.

The other weekend I went to visit Lyndall in Ely to play my part in constructing on of the hundreds of elements involved. While there I was surprised to see how much in common the construction of the installation had with that of a particle detector. After some thought though the parallels made perfect sense because they are a very real reflection of the core inspiration behind the piece.


I tried my hand at constructing one of the hundreds of uniquely and intricately patterned  Perspex discs that comprise the main installation. I found the accuracy with which the diamantes must be placed quite tricky and instead realised my calling lie in preparing the brass rods for the glass beads to sit upon.

The micro industrial scale process Lyndall and her team of assistants are employing to create Covariance mimic that of my colleagues and myself when constructing the ND280 near detector for the T2K experiment. Thousands of individual elements are painstakingly hand assembled, over seen by an expert. Jigs and standardised methods ensure accuracy in the alignment of each piece.

Soon will come the stage when all on the intermediary elements will be packaged and shipped to site for installation. The ND280 particle detector comprised of elements constructed by groups all around the globe and came together in the village of Tokai-mura in Eastern Japan. The discs for Covariance are travelling in boxes from Lyndalls home in Ely to Kings Cross, while the support structure and lighting will arrive on site direct from engineers. It will be the coming together of all elements that will make Covariance complete much that same as it takes international elements to complete a particle detector.

I am extremely excited about Monday as I will be continuing this journey to completion when the main support structure arrives on site at the London Canal Museum. This is the most exciting part as the individual parts start to form the whole. It will take less time than installing a particle detector but the principle is the same – elements are passed down a hole and assembled underground into a complete piece.

It is happening!

Female computers

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A capital YES re the labour involved in making the work, at the moment it seems endless! What I've found most difficult is the intensity; I'm making most hours of the day, every day and have been for the past two months. It's very intricate work, mostly using tweezers and I have to wear gloves, which I hate, to keep finger prints off the acrylic.

I often see the labour-intensive work I make as a private performance and there is always a strong conceptual link to each individual work. During my conversations with Ben I came across an image of a woman collating data from bubble chamber experiments in 1970. Thousands of women were employed to do this work; they were actually called computers. The image became a strong influence for me and has directly affected my choice of using glass beads and diamantes, which are more commonly used in women's craft. You could say I'm aligning myself with the work ethic employed by these women.


Credit: Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

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A seemingly never ending task....

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It is wonderful to see this image of the blue discs, they are beautiful. So now onto green (not your favourite colour I know!) and then orange, red..... 

I have underestimated the work involved in creating this piece. I knew it would be incredibly labour-intensive, but had not realised that you were working 7 days a week and often from 8 in the morning until 9 at night! What an extraordinary commitment. 

Is this your most labour-instensive work to date? It is interesting to reflect back on your previous projects and think about the ongoing, repetitive tasks involved in their creation. So often - like this work - the tasks relate to crafts traditionally associated with women's work: crochet, knitting, sewing. I am thinking here of 'Entrap/Conceal' (2011) made from intricate crotchet cotton and glass beads or 'Touch (Blanket)' (2010) created from knitted strands of a hypothermia blanket. Perhaps the most significant of these works is 'Rope' - a series of knitted rope begun in 2001 which continues to grow.....


Annabel Lucas, Curator

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A momentous weekend

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This weekend saw me reach the half-way point with the discs, yeah! The blue ones are all finished and as of this moning I've completed 201 discs, only 184 to go! Ben and Emily visited on Saturday, to help make, it was great to see them. Here's a selection of the blue ones; I'm now on green.

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Iced beads!

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Alongside the disc installation I'm making a series of light boxes, which will be shown in one of the two ice wells. To create the images I made a work from glass beads, froze it in a tub of water and then photographed it whilst melting; lots of fun! Below is a glimpse of what was frozen. The photograph was taken by Caroline Claisse, a student from the Royal College of Art, who visited me last week to talk about my practice and Superposition. The light boxes are made from hot rolled steel; an image of them being welded is below.


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