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Ten years on, Arts at CERN cements its role fostering dialogue between physics and art

CERN scientists are keen to create connections with the international artistic and cultural communities


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Swiss artist Ian Purnell and CERN physicist Pierre Korysko in conversation at CLEAR, November 2022 (Image: CERN, Faye Saulsbury)

This summer, Arts at CERN launched an open call for scientists to take part in conversations with artists. Artists all over the world are eager to engage with the big questions pursued by fundamental science, and one of the main goals of Arts at CERN is to facilitate these connections. Having received more than 60 responses from across the CERN community, Arts at CERN is making a strong entry into its second decade.

Muhammad Ansar Iqbal, a physicist at CMS, met Ian Purnell, a Swiss artist and filmmaker, earlier this month. “He was interested in what I do, but I had to explain it without the technical mumbo jumbo,” says Iqbal. “It’s very important to hear another perspective. Inside the CERN bubble, we can sometimes forget why we are doing all of this. Talking to artists helps you start thinking about the big questions again.” ATLAS physicist Despina Sampsonidou, who also recently became involved in the programme, feels the same: “In our work, we are focused on the details, but the artists help us see the bigger picture.” 

The idea behind Arts at CERN is to foster two-way, lasting dialogue between people who share similar research interests, but who approach their research from different backgrounds. “Creativity is needed to write a novel, but it is also needed when designing a piece of hardware or software,” says Maria Elena Angoletta, electronics engineer at CERN. She took part in a sci-fi writing workshop with UK artist Suzanne Treister last May. “I definitely went out of my comfort zone! But I believe that not doing creative activities can be detrimental to our work.” Scientific Dreaming, a collection of drawings and short stories which resulted from Treister’s workshops, will be published by Arts at CERN in 2023.

Through residencies like Purnell's and Treister's, Arts at CERN brings the international arts and physics communities closer together. Since 2012, more than 200 artists from 80 countries have been hosted at CERN – residencies that usually inspire the completion of an art piece. This coming year, the Connect residency programme will partner CERN and ICTS in Bengaluru, India, with the support of the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia. Through this partnership, an artist from Switzerland and an artist from India will take part in a joint residency in dialogue with scientists, engineers and staff from the two institutions.

The last ten years have seen Arts at CERN become a leading platform for dialogue between artistic and scientific communities worldwide. Art commissions from previous artist residencies at CERN will be on display at Science Gateway, opening in summer 2023. If you would like to be involved with Arts at CERN in the upcoming year, send an email introducing yourself to info.arts@cern.ch