A MONKEY PEELED AN ONION +
You take an onion and peel it and peel it, right to the heart, and there’s nothing there. There must be something, you believe, there must be – you take another onion and start peeling it, you keep on peeling, at last, nothing... Do you understand the sadness of this monkey?’
From: Dazai Osamu, ‘A Record of the Autumn Wind’
Academic freedom is a prerequisite for scientists to challenge established truths and expand the boundaries of our knowledge, and therefore, a requirement for new scientific revolutions to occur. In the past years, several impulses and trends such as political interference, dependent funding and the increasing importance being attached to utility values, are putting academic freedom under renewed pressure.
Scientific theories, like those of quantum physics and the inner workings of our universe, seem to answer complicated questions about the mystery of creation. However, every answer is the starting point of a new enigma.
The vacuum is such a riddlesome concept. ‘What is nothing? And what remains if we take all matter, the earth, the stars, all molecules, atoms away? What does a vacuum look like? And can a true void exist?’
For A Monkey Peeled an Onion and Spare Parts, I have researched the idea of the vacuum by examining philosophical and scientific theories about nothingness, matter itself and elementary particles. This process, alternately intuitive and deliberate, resulted in a series of images, collages based on scientific imagery from CERN’s archive, and handmade ceramic objects, which are leading the viewer past some of the great thinkers and most revolutionary scientific theories in history. From the philosopher Thales who claimed ‘nothing’ could impossibly exist but to whom space would be as empty as it can be when all matter would have been turned into its primordial form, water. To physicists like Casimir, Hooke and Boyle. And from the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that both permeate space, to CERN’s scientists working on vacuum chambers.
To me, the idea that through science, we might eventually reveal the nature of our existence is very appealing. At the same time, I can not suppress the feeling that there is an absurdity in the fact that we keep on measuring, describing and testing, without obtaining any confirmation that we are coming closer to a final understanding of everything that surrounds us.
‘Is there a truth? If not, would chasing a truth that appears to be fictitious, be of any value?’ I am deeply convinced the answer to this last question is ‘yes’. After all, searching for a verity that turns out to be fiction still is far more appealing than a reality deprived of curiosity.
This quest for ‘nothing’ is rooted in my belief that both our ability and inability to understand the universe are equally important. To modestly oppose to the instrumental view, that art and science should primarily exist to instantly serve the needs of society.