Art rises to time's challenge

Artists at the London Institute and physicists at Cern, Europe's particle-smashing laboratory in Geneva, plan to collaborate to bring the mysteries of time and the sub-atomic world to the public.

Ken McMullen, a film-maker and professor at the institute's London College of Printing, hopes to finalise three-month placements at Cern for up to 20 students with expertise in areas such as journalism, photography, film and the visual arts. An exhibition of their work is also planned.

Professor McMullen believes that it is possible to use film-making techniques such as advanced digital video editing to demonstrate some of the complex concepts used by Cern physicists and even allow the viewer to experience them. "We want to describe certain areas of research in particle physics that are conceptual conundrums - like aspects of time," Professor McMullen said.

He is experimenting with ways of representing visually the notion of time progressing in different directions by looping film. At its simplest, this could involve shooting a piece of film, digitally editing it and projecting it on two screens. The same shots would go forward in time on one screen and backwards on the other. "The aim is to create through the filmic medium parallel allegories of some of the research at Cern," he said.

Professor McMullen believes that using abstract concepts developed by the particle physicists could spark many new developments in film, drama and the visual arts. He believes content is lacking in many of today's popular films and that Hollywood's obsession with special effects is unhealthy. "It is leaving both the expression of the real self and of the conceptual behind. It is about pure sensation - you can be very thrilled by it but blinded to its meaning," he said.

Film needs new inspirations, Professor McMullen said. Rather than coming from the world of drama and entertainment, he believes that these will come from collaborations such as that between Cern and London Institute artists.

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