From the temporal end of the world to the spatial end of the universe. The inaugural exhibition as seen by a physicist.
The Centro Pecci is re-opening, and the director Fabio Cavallucci has chosen to start from the end, indeed from The end of the world. An unexpected choice I think, but certainly an effective proposal for stimulating a multidisciplinary debate which invites contributions from many different fields of knowledge. What does the title of the show evoke for a physicist? Above all, what expectations does a scientist have about the contents of an exhibition on the end of the world?
First of all, the end of the world may indicate the end of our physical world, the spatial end of the universe. What lies beyond that finis, that confine which envelops our world? It is difficult to answer that question simply relying on our imagination. Besides it is now in this very period that the extraordinary, epoch-making demonstration of the gravitational waves, the confirmation of the correctness of general relativity, has been made. This demonstration deprives a question like this of any meaning, destabilizing our perception of the universe as an immutable container which hosts us, the planets, the galaxies…
There is another confine which the title of the exhibition takes us towards: the temporal end of the world. Immediately, though, the symmetries of our thought guide us to the other extreme, the initial moment of the world. What was there before this beginning? In perfect analogy with zero time, we then move towards zero space. What is the world like at the spatial extreme of the infinitely small? If we mentally seek some paradigm inside ourselves, some primordial resource for constructing adequate images, we discover ourselves to be fragile, very fragile. Our species has distilled words and images, or rather images first and words next, thanks to limited sensorial capacities which are adequate to describe and understand a certain dimensional scale; it is very dangerous to extrapolate these mental and communicative schemes out of their dominion.
Imagining the atom as a miniature planetary system, or imagining an electron as a small marble rapidly leads to insurmountable contradictions. How can we represent this spatial limitation? We have neither words nor images. It is useless to try with probability, indetermination, dualism. The electron is not a dual wave/particle object. The electron is simply neither a wave nor a marble. It is something else, it is an electron. We have the language of mathematics to understand it, to predict its behavior, but not the words in our vocabulary. So how to represent this finis of the world? Who knows whether something adequate, something effective, might not come out of the intuition of artists, from their discussion with scientists? Something which might enter the imagination of homo sapiens sapiens and thus broaden our capacity for abstraction, making us more sapiens and less evolved primates. It is not an easy passage, but images can do more than words.
There is a correlative which seems to have little to do with this difficulty of communicating a difficult new concept like the electron…the giraffe! Yes, giraffe, a word by which I have evoked in you a very precise image. Well, only a few centuries ago this animal was exotic and unknown in Europe. Vague, confused descriptions led to the coining of the word camelopardalis, a dual animal half camel and half leopard (an animal version of the wave/particle). Then came the first representations by artists who had never seen the animal but forced themselves to imagine it, thanks to their knowledge of camels and leopards. We hope to see some fine giraffes at the Centro Pecci!
[Cover image: Moira Ricci, Where the sky is nearer, documentary photo. Produced by ASSOCIAZIONE CULTURALE LO SCOMPIGLIO. Photo courtesy of the artist/LaVeronica Arte Contemporanea gallery, 2014]
Moira Ricci, Dove il cielo è pù vicino, 2014, foto documentativa. Lavoro prodotto da Associazione culturale Lo Scompiglio. Photo courtesy l'artista/galleria LaVeronica Arte Contemporanea