In quantum physics the observer effect refers to the phenomenon where simply observing a quantum system can physically change it from being undefined to a defined state.
In the arts this can refer to the importance of the audience viewing a work, be it an object or a performance.
The observer is invited to ponder a number of questions while gazing into a surreal landscape with figures placed in a manner that defies logic and would be impossible to construct in the physical world.
- To what extent does an anticipated audience influence an artist’s creation?
- While some artists claim a complete disregard for their audience in their creative practice, who has ultimate authority over the meaning behind a work of art? Its creator or its audience?
- And if there is no audience, does a work of art even exist?
The observer effect speaks to connection and distance and our predisposition as audience to ascribe narrative. Consider the watched watching the watchers and the deeper meaning of audience as participants simply by viewing this work.
Every decision I make may hive off a parallel universe. In fact the multiverse theory in quantum mechanics suggest every decision I take in this world creates new universes: one for each and every choice I could possibly make. So the multiverse is an endless succession of what-ifs.
Also known as the many-words interpretation in Quantum mechanics, this describes an infinite number of universes and everything that could possibly have happened in our past, but did not, has actually occurred in the past of some other universe or universes.
As unlikely as this sounds, quantum physicists assure us this is not just some sort of highly theoretical concept to satisfy the maths, insisting that many worlds is the only rational explanation for so many quantum phenomena we see in real-world experiments.
If I apply this to the visual arts community, it can sometimes seem to occupy a different universe to mine. They often use a distinct language to describe their work, insisting on a different set of aesthetic values that mystify those that don’t share their worldview.
A principle of quantum mechanics is that particles can exist in two separate locations at once. In fact physicists have now demonstrated the superposition of a group of atoms over a substantial distance of 54 centimetres. The equivalent of galaxies apart at a subatomic level.
But quantum superposition gets even weirder by the fact that it can only occur when the particles are unobserved. Simply by observing a particle in two different quantum states, you cause what is known as wave function collapse and the particle again exists in only one state or the other.
This understanding of superposition triggered a revolution in the fields of physics and quantum mechanics in the first half of the twentieth century. Scientists realised they were no longer working in a universe characterised by absolutes of time and space, but in quantum uncertainties and time-space relativity.
This concept of uncertainty is nothing new to artists. We work in a world where we never really know if our work is any good, or indeed will receive the respect we hope it is worth.
The idea of supersymmetry is a theory that aims to fill the gaps in the “Standard Model” understanding of all the smallest particles that exist at a quantum level. We still don’t know what all the building blocks are that make up matter. As some scientists have speculated, perhaps the reason we still have so many questions about the inner workings of the universe is because we have so far only seen half of the picture.
Symmetry is fundamental in the visual arts, referring to the overall balance of elements in a composition, including colour, size and positioning. Science tells us this is because our brains are hard-wired to look for symmetry in our surroundings. This probably has a lot to do with the way our brains work, with two halves operating very differently yet harmoniously.
String theorists use mathematics to indicate there are ten or eleven dimensions of reality, not just the four dimensions of height, width, depth and time that we can perceive.
It’s hard for us to conceive what those extra dimensions might be like, but we do know that only 5% of the universe is made up of atoms. The rest is made up of 26% dark matter and 69% dark energy, called dark only because we can’t see or measure it.
To particle physicists the idea of extra dimensions can help explain things like why the force of gravity is so weak compared to the other forces of particles.
For artists the thought of other dimensions does help explain why