Cloud Chambers is an ongoing artist research project concerned with the enigmatic phenomena that shape the universe, such as dark matter, cosmic rays, gravitational waves, and more. The project attempts to uncover a cultural context for cosmology from the aesthetic and social perspective of the visual arts.
The work takes two forms: images and videos documenting the infrastructure of major experiments in the lab and in the landscape, and generative visualizations of the properties studied by these machines.
HD Video, 7:00,
Griffith Observatory Cloud Chamber
In the basement museum of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles is an understated exhibit called the Cloud Chamber. Floating through the vapor within the chamber, one can see materialized the cosmic rays and subatomic particles whizzing around and through us. This recording of the device is the opening piece of the project Cloud Chambers. The cloud chamber serves a the project’s namesake because it is a machine built to render the cosmic atmosphere in tangible form.
Dr. Ed Krupp Director of the Griffith Observatory
The City of Los Angeles Department
of Parks and Recreation
Cloaked in the vast darkness of space, most of our universe is hidden from human perception. Only recently have we begun to build advanced machines able to peer through the veil of our senses to see the enigmatic forces that shape the cosmos. Cloud Chambers documents how technology can bring the daunting and beautiful complexity of cosmology to a human scale. The project interrogates how we see ourselves in the universe, and how we might imagine our future within it.
The project takes its name from the device called the cloud chamber, a 20th century invention that first visually rendered the particles whizzing through the cosmic atmosphere. I begin the series with a video documenting the cloud chamber in the Griffith Observatory. Its director, Dr. Ed. Krupp described the device as a spectacle that brings the universe in relation to the body.
Dark matter detectors. Gamma ray cameras. Titanic mountaintop telescopes. The photographs in Cloud Chambers assemble a collection of technological marvels, built to sense the esoteric particles and energies of nature. Often set in monumental locations, these unique machines visually hint at science fiction and futurist designs of the past. The overlapping suggestion of fact and fiction are further explored through animations that emulate the behaviors of dark matter, gravitational waves, etc. These devices are high-tech landmarks of human ingenuity in the Anthropocene, reshaping the surrounding landscapes, or buried in the deepest mines.
To create the visualizations and animated works, I build custom software to distort photographic media, consulting with scientists, their data, and the concepts that support their research. These animations both model and dramatize the behavior of the universe, like the embellished beauty of false-color images, or the costly effects of popular cinema.
The project has brought me into the labs and landscapes where massive experiments take place. These include the Smithsonian’s gamma ray telescope array at the Whipple Observatory in AZ, SETI’s Hat Creek Radio Telescope array, the Dark Matter detection lab in Occidental College, the Very High Energy Astrophysics Lab at UCLA, the Griffith Observatory, and working with physicists at CalTech, MSU and more. Cloud Chambers is ongoing, with research trips to international experiments planned.