Creating Science-Art: Meditation on CP-1, University of Chicago
NOTES ON THE PERFORMANCE: “Meditation on CP-1” emerges from a series of workshops that I led with particle physicist Young-Kee Kim for students and staff from the University of Chicago. Sponsored by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry and the Division of Physical Sciences, we devoted six meetings this fall to exploring the materials, means, and critical questions of creating performance in relation to science, using as our focal point the nuclear physics and history of Chicago Pile-1 and its aftereffects. Drawn from the sciences, humanities, performing arts and visual arts, workshop participants actively engaged in the creative process by generating material through guided choreographic prompts and group discussion. Young-Kee Kim led the inquiry into physics. Guest speakers Robert Rosner and Norma Field contributed additional scientific and cultural history.
I led the movement work and directed the final performance. Andrew Bearnot served as teaching assistant and assistant director. Sam Pluta’s original music, composed for this workshop, coexists alongside the choreographic score. However, in keeping with one vein of post-World War II avant-garde aesthetics, any connections between movement and music are forged in the minds of the spectators. Many experimental artists responded to the rise of the Nuclear Age by refusing to dictate any one single meaning or linear narrative, preferring instead ambiguity, surrealism, and fragmentation. The right of performers and witnesses to form their own interpretations became paramount. This same sensibility ran through our group discussions about the groundbreaking physics experiment that occurred seventy- five years ago today.
NOTES ON THE MUSIC (from composer Sam Pluta): The musical element in our work is a three section composition, titled “Triptych for E.F.”, depicting events surrounding the first sustained nuclear reaction. The first section of the music uses the voice of Enrico Fermi, reflecting on the reaction eight years after the event, but representing the anticipation of scientific breakthrough. The second section of the music is about the reaction itself. Inspired by my students in Composing with Sound, it uses a kind of breakbeat to depict the collision of nuclei in a nuclear reaction. The final section of music is a meditation on the post-nuclear world we have created with this incredible scientific achievement.
My collaboration with particle physicist Sarah Demers began when we co-designed a one-semester qualitative reasoning course that we first taught at Yale in the fall of 2011. Intended to revitalize the science curriculum for non-science majors, the course is called The Physics of Dance.
Since 2011, we have co-designed and delivered numerous public talks and workshops for audiences both within and outside of academia. By invitation, we have co-designed and delivered presentations for such platforms as the Yale College Alumni Weekends, Yale’s Presidential Inauguration Weekend, Yale’s SCHOLAR, the Physics Club hosted by the Yale Physics Department, and a TED talk titled “Potential Poetics” for Yale’s TEDx 2014 conference.
In 2012, we undertook a large-scale project called “Discovering the Higgs,” funded by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, and in 2013 we co-created a science-art video, “Three Views of the Higgs and Dance.” In the fall of 2013, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Carolina Arts invited us to present the workshop and a related lecture as part of their initiative to promote cross-disciplinary teaching and research among the arts, humanities, and sciences. We have also presented on our work at the University of Rochester, Columbia University, and New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts.
The materials below feature various outcomes of our collaboration.
Manifesto for Physics and Dance / By Emily Coates and Sarah Demers
Physics and dance share equal creative, intellectual, rigorous research power.
We recognize that our disciplines are effective independently.
We explore the potential for complexity – “the potential poetics” – where our disciplines can overlap without reduction.
Potential poetics lies in the crafting of dialogues.
We work to discover the singular advancement and altered perception within this interdisciplinary space.
Physics and Dance / Yale University Press
Our co-authored book on physics and dance is forthcoming from Yale University Press in the fall of 2018. In drawing together our fields, the book contributes to the major shift in universities across the United States in the way academia envisions, researches, and teaches in the arts and humanities and sciences. Heeding student feedback, many science instructors seek to enliven old pedagogical models, in order to better communicate the wonder inherent in scientific pursuits, and the relevance of quantitative reasoning to students’ lives. The arts and humanities are at a similar turning point. No longer accepting the relegation to afterschool activity, the arts are seeking to draw forms of cognition commonly associated with artistic practice–instinct, imagination, and a distinct version of critical rigor–more deeply into the university’s research operations, putting the arts in dialogue across the social sciences, humanities, and sciences. Faced with rapidly decreasing numbers of majors and enrollments, the humanities as a whole acknowledge a nationwide crisis, and are searching for ways to enliven course content and pedagogy. This book leads the vanguard in thinking creatively and generatively about these issues, by envisioning what the disciplines can offer each other. We encourage students to think in the gaps between disciplines, and to critically examine modes of analysis otherwise taken for granted in introductory courses within these fields.
Three Views of the Higgs and Dance / December 2013
This science-art video highlights the verbal and physical analogies high-energy physicists use to imagine the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the Higgs boson. Edited by Jenai Cutcher-West.
Discovering the Higgs / November 2012 – June 2013
Funded by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s Reintegrate: enhancing collaboration in the arts and sciences.
Our Reintegrate project translates the details of the Higgs boson discovery into a series of precisely choreographed visual images. In translating potentially the greatest breakthrough in particle physics in the 21st century through the intersecting artistic mediums of photography and dance, we investigate the problem and benefits of communication across disciplines that weigh heavily toward the non-verbal articulation of ideas.
By synthesizing aesthetic principles from our disciplines, we aim to expand the communicative potential of both, with the ultimate goal to develop a new language through which to communicate the Higgs discovery. We have historical examples of how concepts in music have framed progress in physics–from the Music of the Spheres of Pythagoras to string theory. Returning to the question of what dance can offer physics, we seek nothing less than new metaphors through which physics concepts may be imagined. With the vibrating strings of string theory in mind, we want to explore the possibility that choreographic imagery–the organization of bodies in space and time–may actually lend back to the science new ways of conceiving of the Higgs, and hence new frameworks through which to imagine scientific discovery.
We have shared our “Discovering the Higgs” workshop with physicists at CERN, local community participants through New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and New Haven high school students as part of Yale’s S.C.H.O.L.A.R., a STEM outreach initiative. Aided by photographers Kike Calvo, Jessica Todd Harper (above), and Mike Marsland, we have a collection of images from each event that depicts participants’ diverse, embodied interactions with ideas drawn from subatomic physics and the Higgs boson.
Funded by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts.