LightTime: a mesmerising fusion of science and art

The night club atmosphere is part of the “very unusual” science communication experience LightTime hopes to create, says Scienceworks manager Dr Nurin Veis. Picture: David McAlpine

By DAVID McALPINE,
science editor

Science and art converge spectacularly in an ethereal new exhibition for children and adults at Scienceworks in Spotswood.

LightTime is a collective of 11 Melbourne-based artists, some with scientific and engineering backgrounds, who have imagined and created a world of vivid colours, perplexing mirrors and stunning interactive displays, accompanied by progressive soundtracks.

Scienceworks manager Dr Nurin Veis. Picture: David McAlpine

It may evoke images from a dance music video or a night club, but this is the unique and “very unusual” science communication experience Scienceworks hopes to create, says Scienceworks manager Dr Nurin Veis.

“By merging science with art, we hope to unveil some of the fascinating intricacies of light, sound and optics and to show the connections between the beauty we experience and the science that enables it,” she says.

“This exhibition will be illuminating for the spirit as well as the mind and we think it will bring a whole new audience to be inspired by the impact of science and technology.”

Sound artist Darrin Verhagen, who is part of a group named (((20hz))), has performed his experimental works at festivals around the world and is a senior lecturer in sound design and electronic music at RMIT University.

blue|red:VIMS\SIMS by (((20hz))). Picture: Scienceworks

His piece, intriguingly titled blue|red:VIMS\SIMS, explores how motion sickness can be caused by the relationship between perceived and implied motion.

“We want to know why we respond the way we do to particular kinds of visual and aural stimuli,” Dr Verhagen says.

Sound artist Darrin Verhagen. Picture: David McAlpine

“The idea is that you put your hand in the light well and then the shadows dance around to a particular soundtrack that you are listening to.

“If you choose the headphones on the blue pill, you only get an audio-visual experience. If you choose the headphones on the red pill, you get a simultaneous commentary explaining to you what we are doing to you, in order to induce the nausea.

“I think there’s something interesting about taking something like a fine art experience and pulling physical discomfort into that experience and there’s something similarly silly about having a serious scientific commentary explaining to you how we are making you physically ill.”

Skunk Control’s Epiphany’s Genesis demonstrates the optical property of birefringence. Picture: David McAlpine

Nick Athanasiou, a member of a group of engineers, scientists, artists and educators known as Skunk Control, is passionate about breaking the perceived stereotype that scientists cannot also be artists.

Nick Athanasiou from Skunk Control. Picture: David McAlpine

“We like to break that mould because we tend to think that what we do is also art,” he says.

His group’s creation, Epiphany’s Genesis, is a “meditative” garden hanging from the roof consisting of dynamic mechatronic flowers that periodically open and close, with inner glowing lights and shapes.

Visitors may engage with the piece by lying on bean bags underneath, with the kaleidoscope of colour, form and imagination intriguing the viewer because of the effect known as birefringence, the optical property that changes the way we see light depending on the angle from which it is viewed.

Reminiscent of the traditional Scienceworks educational experience, Mr Athanasiou says Skunk Control’s work is all about discovery.

“We […] believe that both art and science are a discovery process and we think our art does that but it also underpins the science component, too.”

LightTime is open daily at Scienceworks, in Spotswood, from 10am to 4.30pm, entry $5.