The Space Between: Superstring Installation III
Prof. Mauro Francaviglia.
Via C. Alberto 10, 10123, Torino, Italy.
E.S.G. (Evolutionary Systems Group), University of Calabria,
Via Ponte P. Bucci, Cubo 17b, 87036, Arcavacata di Rende, Italy.
Dr. Marcella Giulia Lorenzi, Ph.D.
E.S.G. (Evolutionary Systems Group), University of Calabria,
Via Ponte P. Bucci, Cubo 17b, 87036, Arcavacata di Rende, Italy.
BATS (Biblioteca Area Tecnico-Scientifica), University of Calabria,
Piazzale Chiodo, 2, 87036, Arcavacata di Rende, Italy.
Michael Petry, Director.
(MOCA) Museum of Contemporary Art, London Project Space,
113 Bellenden Road, SE15 4QJ, London, Great Britain
The main subject of this paper refers to a conceptual art work by one of us (MP), that was realized for the first time in Torino and later in Cetraro, in May 2005. It is at the same time an exquisite demonstration of how a clever mix of Art and Science is feasible and also a clear example of the cultural challenges offered by the fascinating and fast growing field of “Emergence in Art”. The artwork is in fact a creative and generative process, that - by means of physical interactions involving both the artist and the public - generates, step by step, an installation that is never ending, continuously changing and dynamically oscillating in space and time. This process intertwines Art and Complexity, giving space into Contemporary Art to the modern physical theory of “Strings and Superstrings”. By its very nature the ”Superstrings Installation” fully belongs to the current mainstream of “generative approaches to Art” as the most important outcome of the installation is not its “final state” (a state, in fact, which can even be inexistent, as the installation could in principle be an endless process and can be changed each time one adds a further string to the pattern) but rather the very dynamical interactive and creative process which step by step generates the installation itself.
The “Standard Model” (the current theory of Particle Physics) postulates the existence of four elementary “fundamental” physical interactions that are in turn carried by “elementary particles” grouped, according to precise symmetries rules, in suitable “families”. A different framework has been later proposed in Theoretical Physics, which tries to replace standard particles with so-called “strings” and “superstrings”. These are “extended objects” having one dimension, like real tiny elastic ropes which fill infinitesimally small portions of space. Strings – which might be “open” or “closed” - continuously vibrate in space-time and their vibrations generate observable excitations of the physical fields.
In much the same way, virtual strings formed by elastic ropes filled the space in the Exhibition Room, by means of an infinite process in which the public helped to generate intricate and never ending patterns. In essence, the room became wrapped in miles and miles of elastic string, going from floor to wall, ceiling to door, wherever anyone wanted to attach two end points. Attendees were able to enter and bounce around the space, the visual metaphor of the bound room being a pattern for space, like a “Wormhole”, i.e. a loop in space-time where we could as we exited one, see ourselves enter it. As a final output Art and Science merge through the emergence of the artwork itself.
This paper reports about a conceptual and generative art work, installation and performance that were ideated and created by one of us (MP) and realized for the first time under his direct guidance in Torino (Italy) on the occasion of the Workshop “Art, Complexity and Technology: Their Interaction in Emergence”, held in Villa Gualino, at the ISI Foundation, from 5 to 6 May, 2005 (see ). This “first superstrings installation” saw the enthusiastic participation of one of us (MGL) who subsequently suggested to repeat an analogous installation on the occasion of a slightly later scientific event, namely the Conference “Mathematics, Art and Cultural Industry”, held in Cetraro (Calabria, Italy) from 19 to 21 May 2005 (see ). This second performance was orchestrated “in loco” by MGL, via a telematic contact between MP in London and the Conference place, and it was accompanied by a living interview with the remaining author of this paper (MF). A third installation is now being organized by the three of us in Milano (Italy), on the occasion of the 8th “Generative Art Conference” (GA2005), held at the local Polytechnical University from 15 to 17 December 2005.
Petry is also in the process of organizing an exhibition in London (dates to be confirmed) on Art and Complexity, which will feature a further development of the potential for interactivity in the string installation. He proposes to add a live web cam to the site and will allow web visitors to tell real assistants in the gallery space which two points to attach a string. They will alter the real world from the virtual, and interact with the “live” members of the public in attendance. This will add another layer of complexity to the generative process.
The “Superstring Installation” wants to be – and in fact it is - a beautiful demonstration of how a clever mix of Art and Science is feasible, also providing at the same time a clear and self-explanatory example of the deep cultural challenges that are currently offered by the fast growing field of “Emergence in Art”. The installation is in fact a creative and generative process to be held and repeated at the suitable occasion of Conferences and Workshops seeing the joint participation of artists and scientists; an art work which - by means of physical interactions that strongly involve both the artist and the public - generates, step by step, a installation that is never ending, continuously changing and dynamically oscillating in space and time. It is therefore a true and genuine “generative process” that allows to intertwine Art and Complexity, giving space into Contemporary Art to the modern physical notions of “Strings and Superstrings”, which are among the most fascinating and challenging issues of current Physics of fundamental interactions.
The kind of structure that emerged in Torino, Cetraro and Milano - and will again emerge from further future re-propositions of this dynamical interactive
installation, wherever it would be again offered and repeated – turns out to be an evidently complicated and continuously changing structure. By its very nature, made of elastic ropes that cross each other in a fast growing and never self-repeating pattern, it has also deep relations with another branch of Mathematics, i.e. the so-called “Theory of Knots” (see, e.g., ).
In each one of the quoted occasions it has been (and again will be in later occasions) a beautiful example of “Emergence”. Moreover, it is fully embedded into the current view on “Generative Approaches to Art” since, according to the current definition of “generative art” , the most important outcome of the installation is not its “final state” - a state, in fact, which can even be inexistent, as the installation could in principle be an endless process and can be changed each time one adds a further string to the emerging pattern - but rather the very dynamical interactive process which step by step, piece of string by piece of string, generates the installation itself, together with its spatial and temporal relations with the surrounding environment (the embedding “space-time”) as well as within itself (the “internal space” of hidden degrees of knowledge).
“Strings” (and their “supersymmetric” partners, i.e. “Superstrings”) do belong to those fascinating and challenging fields of imagination that lead Mankind to wonder: “Which is the ultimate and intimate structure of the Universe which surrounds us…?” - “Are particles and quarks the smallest constituents of matter…?” – “Do space-time vibrations pass through evanescent point-like objects like particles are or, rather, is there any space in the Universe for something extended which vibrates as an elastic rope does…?”
And – moreover – “What do strings and superstrings have to do with everyday life and especially with the artistic sense of Nature…?” – “Should an artist and performer bother with such exotic concepts as strings and superstrings…?”
The “Superstring Installations” serve as an answer – an astonishing and emotionally intensive answer, indeed – to these last questions. It also allows to stimulate the imagination to run through this challenging field and – why not…? – to begin establishing a less dramatic interaction between Art and Science, two disciplines which could seem to be faraway from each other and, on the contrary, evolve and progress as intertwined parts of human thought (see, e.g., [5-7]).
2.1 Do Strings and Superstrings Fascinate the Artist…?
In a 2003 issue of “Scientific American”  a conversation with Brian Greene (the American scientist who several years ago ideated the very notion of “string” – see ) was published, with the title “The future of string theory”. There one can read a number of interesting statements, among which we like to quote the following: “A knot difficult to disentangle – String Theory seems to be the most modern and yet incomprehensible theory of Physics. At the beginning even specialists were annoyed by its extremely complicated formulation, while other physicists were rather skeptical about it because of its difficulties in providing concrete experimental evidences. The rest of the World, on the other hand, was totally unaware of its existence. String theorists were already at difficulty when trying to explain <<why>> the subject of their investigations was so exciting, so that an old dream of Einstein – a fully unified theory of reality – could be obtained, in order to open wider windows towards the understanding of deep questions like the very existence of Universe as we see it today”. Simple in fact as an idea as well as extremely complicated in its mathematical structure, String Theory is still today one of the most intriguing domains of investigation for Theoretical Physics. Many scientists believe it will be the ultimate answer to several fundamental questions of Theoretical Physics; others still remain doubtful about its real possibility to be the ultimate explanation of the fine structure of matter in the universe. Nevertheless, its scientific and philosophical validity is totally (at least potential) capability of giving a “unitary description” of all kinds of elementary matter, but also because of its intrinsic mathematical beauty, for the great stimulus it gave to deeper and deeper investigations about the fundamental forces which keep matter together, as well as for its somewhat astonishing contributions to the developments of specific branches of pure Mathematics. To such an extent that finally String Theory entered the imagination of public at large. Greene also states in :“ … the <<external>> World begun to give some attention to String Theory. Woody Allen has made ironical claims on it in an article appeared in a <<New Yorker>> issue of July 2003. Probably it is the first time that someone has thought to Calabi-Yau spaces as an allegory of love stories at the workplace”.
2.2 Elementary Particles at Work
Modern Physics postulates the existence of a few elementary “fundamental” interactions (they are actually assumed to be four, according to a commonly accepted model of matter). A “classical” view on these interactions postulates moreover that the interactions themselves are carried by so-called “elementary particles” (together with their sub-particle constituents, called “quarks”) that are grouped, according to precise mathematical symmetries rules, in suitable “families”. According to this classical view on sub-atomic Physics elementary particles together with their sub-particles should be, in a sense, the ultimate constituents of matter; theoretically, they are taken to be points in space-time, having no shape nor any real dimension. Practically, they are considered to be extremely tiny objects, kinds of infinitesimal balls of matter whose physically sensible dimension is substantially evanescent.
The ensuing particle model is usually called the “Standard Model of Particle Physics” (see ). Among the particles that are better known to a general audience are “photons” (the particles which correspond to light propagation as they carry light around the Universe) as well as “electrons” and “protons” (which are responsible for electromagnetic interactions). Maybe less known, but frequently quoted also in divulgative reports on Physics, are “neutrinos” (which should contribute to the so-called and still mysterious “dark matter” existing in the Universe and considered to be responsible of several contradictory experiments of present days Physics) and “gravitons” (which are responsible for the attractive force between bodies, usually called “gravitation”). While at the time of Special and General Relativity (1905-1916) only two elementary forces where known – the gravitational and the electromagnetic force - contemporary Physics recognizes the existence of two other fundamental forces, called respectively “weak and strong electronuclear forces” (fully theorized around the ‘50s) which – altogether – are responsible of the cohesion of matter as it is experimentally observed in Nature. Electromagnetic and electronuclear theories are also called “gauge theories”, according to a fairly accepted jargon. According to the commonly accepted model, these four forces are the only “fundamental” ones (in the sense that all other interactions have to be generated by a mix of these four constituents); they represent the only fundamental ties between particles, which transport the interaction, and form the components of a still incomplete picture which Physics is currently trying to construct as a coherent and “unified” model of all interactions among the Universe components. A sort of “theory of everything”….. the ultimate formulation of which is still fugitive and represents one of the most important theoretical challenges of XXI Century Physics, still unresolved in its full generality.
2.3 Strings and Superstrings
Each theoretical construction aimed at describing “physical reality” should reasonably keep into account the need to describe the four forces mentioned in Subsection 2.2. above, as well as the need to obtain “particles” at least as a low-energy approximation of the theory itself. This is fairly coherent with current observations both at galactic and extra-galactic scale and at the level of particle accelerators in Physics laboratories. In the usual particle models - and in particular in the so-called “standard model” - elementary particles are thought of as point-like shapeless entities, like small round balls without any real dimension, that do not occupy sensible portions of space (better, of four-dimensional space-time). It is evident that this is not possible if a continuum model is envisaged, although a coherent theory of fields in which particles are small but not evanescent objects – having therefore a finite though small size and, accordingly, a tiny three-dimensional extension – is not satisfactory and in fact inexistent.
A different framework has been therefore proposed in Theoretical Physics, which tries to replace standard particles with so-called “strings”. These are “extended objects” having just one dimension, like real tiny elastic ropes which fill infinitesimally small (or even larger) portions of space (maybe ordinary space-time, or better a space-time of dimension even higher than four). Strings might be “open strings” (i.e., they are ropes with two different and separate endpoints) or “closed strings” (i.e., they are loops in space-time; ropes with the topology of a circle, or, if one prefers, open strings which have been closed by letting their two end-points coalesce in a single point). Strings oscillate and vibrate continuously in space-time – like real elastic strings do in everyday life and experience - and their vibrations are thought to generate excitations of the physical fields, i.e. the physical effects which a physical field theory should produce as “observables” that, in turn, could be described as ordinary particle states. Of course the Mathematics and the Physics of such theories are much more complicated and the model described above is just a toy description for non-specialists, but the intimate essence of the “Strings World” is exactly that one.
The terminology “superstrings” is just a jargon for specialists. It refers to an extension of string theory which keeps suitably into account the fact that particles are grouped into two main families, so-called “Bosons” and “Fermions”, that obey different and mutually exclusive statistical rules. These names come from the proper names of the famous scientists Bose and Fermi; the difference between these two kinds of particles refers to the validity of so-called “exclusion principle of Pauli” which, as mentioned, eventually separates particles into these two mutually exclusive families. Boson are described by mathematical objects which obey scalar, vector or tensorial rules of transformation; Fermions obey instead spinorial rules. All so-called “super-descriptions” of reality are based on suitable mathematical and physical frameworks that allow stronger exchanges between these two a priori somewhat separate worlds, i.e. a unified description of both kinds of matter in single unitary “packets” which strongly entangle Bosons and Fermions together.
As stated in the Introduction, the artistic performance “The Space Between: Superstring Installation” is explicitly intended to be both a tribute to this fascinating theory of Physics, wiz. “String and Superstring Theory” – together with its philosophical implications – as well as a fantastic artistic experiment which we believe to be fully and appropriately immersed in the framework of “Generative Art”.
The installation was realized for the first time by Michael Petry at the Workshop “Art, Complexity and Technology: Their Interaction in Emergence”, held in Torino (Villa Gualino, where the ISI Foundation is located) from 5 to 6 May, 2005. The preliminary announcement of that Workshop, together with more information, can be found at the Home Page http://www.isi.it/conference-art.html. A detailed overview of the Torino Conference - where a few video traces about the day-by-day evolution of the installation can be seen - is found at the following Web page:
The installation was re-sited (in collaboration with M.G. Lorenzi and with an accompanying scientific interview with M. Francaviglia) at the Conference “Mathematics, Art and Cultural Industry”, held in Cetraro (Calabria, Italy) from 19 to 21 May 2005; more details can be found at the Web pages:
and a few images of the installation are shown hereafter.
The best description of these installations is perhaps Petry’s original commentary prepared for the first Torino edition: "This would be an interactive self-defining, ongoing project that would take place at the start of the conference and run throughout it. A final visual element will emerge from the participation of all the conference members, speakers as well as attendees. According to lead theorists (like David Peat) super strings run throughout the universe taking material from one end to another. Yet they interact on our perceived notion of the universe at such an infinitesimally small level, that we do not see or feel these transfers. Such strings are said to pass through our physical bodies continuously going through the space between atoms, and subatomic elements. Particles like neutrinos are so un-interactive that they pass through us without ever disrupting our subatomic elements. Petry asked each person to attach at least one section of string to different parts of the room (with either black or white tape provided) at the start of every session. They could of course do many, or use the break periods to make even greater interventions. In essence, the room became wrapped in miles of elastic string, going from floor to wall, ceiling to door, wherever anyone wanted to attach two end points. Attendees were able to enter and dance around the space. Often it is asked how artists can lead scientists to an understanding of the world, and while there are many examples, Petry would suggest that the visual metaphor of the bound room being a pattern for space, and yet a bound restricted space
presents a paradox similar to that of the Wormhole. In a Wormhole, given the technology, we could as we exited one, see ourselves enter it. In a bound room, the depiction of freedom and its boundaries can be drawn and in a complex way. We might see Art and Science merge, through the emergence of the artwork."
It is important to remember that the piece was foremost an ARTWORK, not a model for a scientific theory. Many of the scientists in attendance made suggestions as to how it could be made more like a model, to which Petry continued to reply, “thank you for your ideas, but this is an art work, but that does not preclude you from making your own new installation that suits your ideology better”. It was an interesting example of how the two languages (that of Art and that of Science), while using many of the same works, mean such different things by them. Petry insisted on the poetry of the actions and the strings in space, while the scientists insisted on seeing the object from a point of utility.
As stated in the Abstract, the virtual strings formed by elastic ropes eventually filled the space in the Exhibition Room, by means of an infinite process in which the public and all participants helped to generate intricate, entangled and never ending patterns. Knots and knots of elastic material that, in virtue of their elastic properties, were induced to vibrate by all external interactions (even airflow or just by touch). In essence, the room became wrapped in miles and miles of elastic string, going from floor to wall, ceiling to door, wherever anyone wanted to attach two end points. Also closed strings could be obtained by a clever handling of the ropes. Attendees were able to enter and move in the space (ducking and bobbing in order not to collide with the real strings), the visual metaphor of the bound room being a pattern for space, like a “Wormhole”. As a final output, Art and Science merge through the emergence of the artwork itself. As already mentioned, all these installations are genuine examples of “Generative Approaches to Art” since their most important outcome is not its “final state” but rather the interactive process which generates the installation itself.
 “Art, Complexity and Technology: Their Interaction in Emergence” – Workshop held in Villa Gualino (ISI Foundation, Torino, Italy), 5-6 May, 2005 - Web Page: http://www.isi.it/conference-art.html.
 “Mathematics, Art and Cultural Industry”, Conference held in Cetraro (Calabria, Italy), 19-21 May 2005 - CD-rom of Proceedings by M.G. Lorenzi - Web Page: http://galileo.cincom.unical.it/convegni/WSArte/
 C.C. Adams, The Knot Book: An Elementary Introduction to the Mathematical Theory of Knots, W.H. freeman & Co. (Oxford, 1994) – See also the web page: http://www.freelearning.com/knots/.
 C. Soddu, New Naturality: a Generative Approach to Art and Design, Leonardo Magazine 35, MIT Press, July 2002.
 G. Cappellato & N. Sala, Architettura della complessità: la geometria frattale tra Arte, Architettura e Territorio, Franco Angeli (Milano, 2004)
 G. Faraco & M. Francaviglia, Using Art for Mathematics Teaching, in: “Proceedings 4th International Conference APLIMAT 2005” (Bratislava, February 2005); M. Kovacova et al. Eds.; Slovak University of Technology (Bratislava, 2005), pp. 134-152
 G. Faraco & M. Francaviglia, A course of Mathematics in Art, in: Atti del Minisimposio “Applications of Mathematics to Cultural Industry”, under Convegno "SIMAI 2004", Venice, Italy, 23-24 September, 2004; (CD-Rom by M.G. Lorenzi); E. Bilotta, M. Francaviglia, P. Pantano Eds., AVR S.r.L. (Cosenza, 2004), 8 pp.
 Il futuro della teoria delle stringhe; una conversazione con Brian Greene, Le Scienze 424 (Dicembre, 2003), pp. 44-49
 D.J. Griffiths, Introduction to Elementary Particles, John Wiley & Sons (New York, 1987) – See also the web page: http://superstringtheory.com/.