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Kettle’s Yard was recently invited to curate an exhibition to help celebrate the opening of the new Maxwell Centre, a building for pioneering scientific research at the University of Cambridge. We caught up with the exhibition curator Guy Haywood to talk about what inspired the show.
Where did the idea for the exhibition come from?
We were invited by the Maxwell Centre to collaborate on a project that would look at some of the ways that artists connect with science, and the similarities between innovative scientific and artistic practices, as well as to help celebrate the opening of their impressive new building in Cambridge.
Walking through the labs of the Maxwell Centre and Cavendish Laboratory it doesn’t take long to appreciate the similarities between the lab and the artist studio; the energy, carefully choreographed chaos and coffee paraphernalia.
Both are sites for experimentation and idea generation. Although their worlds may seem distinct from one another, there are similarities in the ways that artists and scientists work and think. Both spend all day every day striving to find answers, testing and questioning the material and immaterial structures of the world around us, and through creativity they make discoveries that can create change. So much of the innovation and technology that has become an integral part of our everyday lives is down to the work of our scientists – their ideas and dreams have the power to fundamentally change the way we interact and connect with each other and the world around us. Imagine, for instance, a world where we can’t carry the Internet in our pockets: no social media, no dot-coms, hashtags or memes, no Google maps, online dating or super colour-rendition-high-definition, and no proliferation of Blade Runner style targeted advertising.
How did you select the artists who would be involved?
Artists are naturally exploring this changing landscape. So when we began work on this project we wanted to bring together artists whose work particularly resonates with the Maxwell Centre’s ethos of pioneering experimentation and discovery. From Hito Steyerl’s film STRIKE, to Fischli/Weiss’ iconic film The Way Things Go, Laura Buckley’s new scanned light photographs, Mark Titchner’s major new graphic text installation, Benedict Drew’s film Mainland Rock; Paul Purgas’ live sound installation and E.A Wilson’s sketches of the aurora australis from the early twentieth century (made whilst in the Antarctic with Scott’s pioneering Discovery Expedition 1901-04).
Some of the new works made for this exhibition also draw inspiration from the intriguing range of objects and scientific paraphernalia, once used by the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, that are held by the Cavendish Laboratory.
The title is taken from one of Maxwell’s poems (he was prolific, using poetry as another creative output for his research), and suggests the idea of stepping into the unknown, exploring.
Had you heard of James Clerk Maxwell before you began the exhibition?
I’ve definitely got to know Maxwell much better since starting work on this project – it is really surprising how little those of us outside of the scientific community hear about him yet his research into electromagnetism, colour and light is so relevant to all of our lives. Much of mobile communication and navigation technology relies on his findings. He was also responsible for the first ever colour photographic image, made with Thomas Sutton in 1861 (the original colour slides are displayed as part of this exhibition). Although the world of physics may sometimes seem mysterious or abstract to many of us, we all rely on it every single day.
How is curating an exhibition in a working science centre different compared to an art gallery?
It is always exciting to work on exhibitions outside of the gallery environment, there are all sorts of challenges and opportunities involved in working with new spaces and with new people.
The Maxwell Centre is a busy working building so right from the start it was clear that the pieces we chose had to not only fit with the theme but also work with the spaces.
The building hasn’t been designed as a space for showing art and we didn’t want to pretend otherwise. This is why we have tried to use its existing infrastructure and architecture as much as possible, for instance one thing we noticed instantly was the number of very large, very high quality screens around the spaces, perfect for showing video works.
What can visitors expect to see when they come to the exhibition?
Everyone is invited to pick up a map and explore all three floors of the building, and discover the artworks as well as the spectacular views towards the historic city centre.
There are films in many of the new meeting areas and board rooms, sculptural works by Rana Begum are displayed high on a wall in the triple-height foyer area, and a specially commissioned graphic text installation by Turner-Prize nominated artist Mark Titchner cascades down the underneath of the new feature staircase. Visitors can also watch a film of a stunning dance performance which was produced jointly by choreographer Wayne McGregor and artist Haroon Mirza, and was performed in the central atrium space at the Maxwell Centre in April 2016.
The exhibition is open Saturdays until 2 July 2016, read more