ESSAY BY TACO HIDDE BAKKER ON

DOUBLE SLIT EXPERIMENT

THE TIME OF PHOTOGRAPHY

ON MARJOLEIN BLOM'S "DOUBLE-SLIT EXPERIMENT"

One of the great paradoxes inherent to photography is its convoluted relationship to time. As a technique it is a child of the industrialisation of the 19th century, the era heralding the triumph of clock time. But since a photograph is able to so naturally portray the features of, say a loved one, the emotional powers it conveys carry it through time in a very different way than according to the laws of chronometrics.

 As the popular saying goes a photograph captures a moment, but the photo itself carries momentum, is perhaps itself an event more important than the scene it depicts. A photograph is akin to the angel of history, blown forward by the winds of progress, but facing the future backwards. Its magic presence is eternal, carrying under its wings all of the past and future at the same time.

  Could perhaps the immense popularity of time travel in literature and subsequently in cinema be seen as an attempt by laymen, unable to get a grasp on the mind-bending theories of the quantum physicists, at reconciling two worlds growing increasingly apart: the mathematical foundations of time/space and the inner workings of the universe (a scientific model) versus the lived experience of ordinary human beings (La durée in Henri Bergson's philosophy against clock time)?

  In her artist's book and photo series Double-Slit Experiment, Marjolein Blom also tries to reconcile the extreme poles between advanced quantum science and everyday experience. Whereas time travel might be physically impossible (for the time being), human imagination has proven that mentally almost anything is possible, for as long as we dream and remember and project our dreams and memories into the great unknown that is the future.

  Blom takes as a title and a general framework within which to situate her experiment an experiment in physics performed by Thomas Young in the early 19th century. A light source beaming through two slits doesn't project two small bands of light on a screen behind, but shows an interference pattern that looks like a wave. A century later this simple experiment would turn the scientific world on its head.

  Blom's photographic essay is by no means meant as an illustration to the almost untranslatable (in language or images to be understood by laymen, that is) theories of quantum physicists, but rather expresses a personal fascination for time travel and wormholes and everything that these unexplainable phenomena might upend in the general ideas about time and history, and commonplace notions about the past, present and future.

If time travel would not only allow us to visit the future, but alsoto unobtrusively visit the past, we might "once again be able to speak with those loved ones we miss", as Blom states in her book.

  Theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler, responsible for the term black hole, once said that time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once – to which Richard Feynman added that space must then exist so that everything doesn't happen only to you.

A consoling thought, to say the least.

ABOUT

A MONKEY PEELED AN ONION +

SPARE PARTS

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.