Dark Matter: 95% Of The Universe Is Missing At Science Gallery London
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You have to applaud Science Gallery London for its bravery.
Mounting an exhibition about dark matter is a big ask. Dark matter embodies the vast majority of the mass in the universe, yet nobody has ever seen it, smelled it, or tickled its armpits. It doesn't shine, it doesn't reflect, it doesn't give a fig for Instagram.
Most of us, I would speculate, haven't heard of dark matter or, if we have, might dismiss it as an advertising campaign for Guinness. Scientists fare little better. This elusive shadow substance will not be tamed, and is only glimpsed by its effects on 'normal' matter.
So how, in the devil's refrigerator, do you turn this nebulous stuff into an exhibition?
With flair and wit, as it turns out. Science Gallery London is known for shows that blend art and science (it's affiliated with King's College, after all). In its Dark Matter exhibition, the gallery strikes the perfect balance.
Any artist approaching the topic must at first feel daunted, and then delighted. This is fertile territory for the creative mind. Nobody really knows what dark matter is and so, like a child with a colouring book, it is for the artist to fill in the gaps.
Some of the pieces here tackle the subject head-on. Sound artist Aura Satz teamed up with Professor Malcolm Fairbairn of King's on the highlight audio installation. Visitors are encouraged to stand within a hoop of loudspeakers in a darkened room. Each speaker plays a different frequency, teased out of a scientific model of dark matter vibration. It's disorienting, and impossible to describe without using lofty words I don't fully understand. Just go and try it.
The most understated, and yet brilliant object, is an empty, transparent box. Missing Mass by Carey Young (again with help from Prof Fairbairn) 'gives sculptural form' to 5,461 particles of dark matter, the average number expected to lie within any space of that size at any given time. You can't see them, obviously. They come and go by their own exotic whim, and pass through the container walls like ghosts. You're meant to ponder the implications. If someone bought this art work, do they really own the 5,461 particles?
Most of the exhibits use dark matter as inspiration, or as a cypher for other unknowns, rather than referencing it directly. I was charmed by the wall of 'phantom islands' by Agnieszka Kurant, which shows blobs of territory that once graced every atlas and globe, before someone bothered to go looking for them. The same artist also offers an LCD painting, which changes in response to 'social energies' garnered from Twitter — a way of visualising something that can't otherwise be seen.
If all of this feels too esoteric, then lounge a while in Andy Holden's video installation, which ponders alternative laws of physics. You won't be bashed around the head with Einstein or Feynman, but you might catch a glimpse of the Roadrunner or Bugs Bunny. Holden's 'Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape' include such insights as “Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation”, and "everything falls faster than an anvil".
And there's much more besides. This is a free exhibition. You can pop in any time you're over in London Bridge. If it feels a little small, then console yourself in the knowledge that 95% of the show is invisible.
Dark Matter: 95% of the Universe is Missing is on at Science Gallery London from 6 June until 26 August 2019. Entrance is free. Events supporting the exhibition include a cosmic origami workshop, and a discussion about the limits of human knowledge.
Note to pedants: Despite the show's subtitle, the estimated proportion of dark matter in the universe is more like 85%. The larger number comes from the addition of 'dark energy', which is a whole other show.
Last Updated 05 June 2019