Photo: CERN

CERN: Great art for great science

HeuerRolf-Dieter Heuer, director general of CERN

When we launched the Arts@CERN programme some six years ago, little did I know that it would enjoy the great success that it has. In large part, that is due to the partnership we have enjoyed with Ars Electronica, and the quality of the artists who have held the Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN. CERN’s decision to engage with the arts comes down to a deep-seated conviction that art and science form two aspects of a single culture. The level of heated debate about the so-called two-cultures is a constant source of bafflement to me. Of course arts and science are linked. Both are about creativity. Both require technical mastery. And both are about exploring the limits of human potential. That’s why the motto of the Arts@CERN programme is ‘Great art for great science’. Through the three years of the Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN, we have certainly experienced great art. From the remarkable Julius von Bismarck’s award winning collaboration with Gilles Jobin, to Bill Fontana’s soundscapes and Ryoji Ikeda’s *Supersymmetry* installation, all three laureates have not only contributed fully to the cultural life of CERN, but they have all produced fantastic works of art, bringing the complementary realms of arts and science closer together. Through the remarkable relationships that have been forged during each artist’s residency at CERN, the laureates of the Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN have each shown just how closely intertwined arts and science are. Over the years, the programme has brought this important massage to thousands around the world, amply fulfilling one of the key goals we set ourselves when we launched the programme. But all good things come to an end, and as we enter this fourth year of collaboration with Ars Electronica, we are evolving the partnership. This year, the collaboration becomes part of the European Network of Art and Science and is renamed the Collide@CERN Ars Electronica award. As in previous years, the winning artist will spend two months at CERN and one at Futurelab. The artists duo Semiconductor who steps up to receive the award at this year’s Ars Electronica Festival has not just one, but three hard acts to follow. I am very much looking forward to seeing the result.

In search of the fundamental

monicabelloMónica Bello, head of Arts@CERN

For centuries science and art cast together the contour lines of our reality. The way we comprehend our environment, the interactions with other beings or the understanding of the complex laws of nature constitute the common drives of art and science through human history. In the current moment, there is a major interest in exploring these hybrid cultures where these two domains of knowledge collide. Today it is possible to imagine a place where artists and scientists can meet and influence each other by using formal strategies and universal imperatives. Far from commenting on scientific facts, illustrating science or communicating advanced technologies, art provides a framework for discussing the complexities that underly our contemporary scientific culture. CERN is an exceptional laboratory dedicated to the most recent discoveries about the universe, a place where thousands of scientists, engineers and scholars have met since 1954 in a continuous exchange and with a common goal. It is also the birthplace of great discoveries and technical advances such as the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful man-made machine that has ever existed, or the World Wide Web, a true milestone in recent history whose invention in 1990 transformed our society as a whole. These efforts would not have been achieved without tremendous international collaborations and without the understanding of an openness, demonstrating the relevance of exploration of the unknown to society.

The pursuit of fundamental research is an essential factor for human survival. It not only helps us to improve our understanding of the universe, but also and primarily because it enables us to work together towards positive cultural and social changes. When the CERN Cultural Policy was launched under the name of “Great Arts for Great Science” in August of 2011, CERN’s engagement with the arts was placed on a similar level as the excellence of its science. At the time it became relevant to form collaborations with international partners that were following the same objectives: to activate the most innovative way of understanding art and creation through fundamental research. As part of this global ecosystem, Ars Electronica immediately became a natural match because of the common interest of encouraging synergies between disciplines and an understanding of the benefits of this to society. Establishing the Collide@CERN Ars Electronica Award partnership provided over these four years unique and exciting opportunities to share our combined expertise in cutting edge arts, science and technology. Since then CERN has partnered several leading international organizations, such as the Onassis Culture Centre in Athens, the Ministry of Culture of Taiwan, the Federal Chancellery of Austria, or the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Other organizations are joining this unique network dedicated to the artistic exploration of scientific ideas of the multidimensional domain of particle physics.

The arts programme at CERN provides an opportunity for creators to develop their practice in an incomparable location during a 3-month residence. During this time the artist is invited to become part of the community of researchers at CERN. Her perception will be challenged by the idiosyncrasy of the place, where conversations are formed by numerous terms that are far from everyday speech, to slowly become mimetic by the routines of the lab. Meeting physicists and engineers, visiting experiments, reflection, researching, arguing, exploring, questioning, these and other actions construct the daily routine and the residence experience. What constitutes CERN, the different labs and the scientists and engineers that work as part of a huge tireless hive, constitutes the fascinating environment in which the artist becomes immersed.

At CERN the goal is to investigate the fundamental structure of our universe. In order to do this, some of the most powerful and largest machines have been designed and crafted to allow the modelling of the primordial stage of the cosmos. Fundamental particles are collided at the speed of light allowing physicists to discover their properties and the laws of matter, as well as the forces involved in the process. Art and science, as essential forces, help us to discover the substantial human condition, that is, the drive of curiosity, play and discovery. Science opens up new routes to explain nature, while art offer us original paths to interpret new realities. Both domains provoke ways to experience knowledge by detecting unique and unexpected connections in the natural system. Technology provides the potential for modelling conditions that are only formerly imagined. And this is how, by creating experiences, by inciting interaction and stirring forces, common threads of enquiry are found between the hybrid practises of art and science.


CERN (CH): As the cradle of the World Wide Web and home of the Large Hadron Collider which investigates the mysteries of our universe, the European Organization for Nuclear Research – CERN is an eminent center of the digital culture as well as science and technology. As an international center of excellence in these fields it is an inspirational place for artists and designers to explore and extend their research in order to find new artistic approaches.

Arts@CERN is CERN’s arts programme, designed to make creative connections between the worlds of science, the arts and technology. It is part of CERN’s Cultural Policy, agreed in August 2010, which lead to the creation of it flagship arts programme “Collide@CERN Artists Residencies – Creative Collisions between the Arts and Science” – in 2011. The “Collide@CERN” residency programme is already well established and highly regarded, having run successfully for 4 years, with a proven track record in trans-disciplinary artistic excellence and exchange between artists and scientists.