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Artists and scientists' creative thinking challenged by the great questions posed by the Cosmos
Al lavoro su uno degli specchi del rivelatore di onde gravitazionali Virgo nel laboratorio EGO (European Gravitational Observatory) dell'INFN e del CNRS francese, che si trova a Cascina (Pisa). © INFN, Photo Simone Schiavon.

ROME.- It travelled in space for 20 years, crossing asteroid belts, going past Venus and Jupiter, flying over seas of liquefied gas on Titan and a hexagon-shaped storm on Saturn. Before its destruction in Saturn’s atmosphere, it performed a series of 22 dives between the planet and its rings. The model of the Cassini spacecraft, charged with the evocative power of its journey into space, hangs in the MAXXI’s hall together with Aeroke, an installation by Tomás Saraceno made of two mirrored aerostatic balloons, catching the imperceptible sounds dispersed in the atmosphere, and welcoming visitors to the Gravity. Imaging the Universe after Einstein exhibition.

The exhibition, curated by Luigia Lonardelli (MAXXI), Vincenzo Napolano (INFN) e Andrea Zanini (ASI) with the scientific advice of Giovanni Amelino-Camelia, is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between the MAXXI, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN); it was realised with the support of the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research – Department of Higher Education and Research, and the main partner Enel. Just over one century from Albert Einstein’s formulation of the theory of relativity, that radically transformed cosmology, the exhibition explores the connections and analogies between art and science, showing the deep influence of the German scientist on contemporary thought.

Einstein's revolution
1915 was turning to an end when our view of the Universe was resoundingly undermined by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. The concepts of space and time were no longer absolute but relative, and dependent on the observer. Spacetime took shape, where the Universe did not have three but four dimensions: three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension, lumped together into one. Only the speed of light was absolute and a limit that could not be broken. In this Universe, gravitational waves are in motion; they are “vibrations” produced by moving masses, deforming spacetime. The discovery of these waves, one hundred years after Einstein, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics last October 2017. Gravity takes the public through the revolutionary theoretical context that men had to face, opening up an unprecedented cultural and artistic collective imagination.

The exhibition
Scientific installations, historical artefacts and simulations of experiments such as Galileo Galilei’s telescope and the Virgo Interferometer (a laser interferometer detecting gravitational waves), are in dialogue with works by contemporary and modern artists: from Marcel Duchamp and Allora&Calzadilla, to Laurent Grasso, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, in an immersive journey that gives the public the opportunity to get close to the innovations of modern physics. The large installation Cosmic Concert by Tomás Saraceno, where previous works by the artist seem to converge, encapsulates the entire itinerary, exploring three key concepts closely connected to each other: Spacetime, Limits and Crisis. On this occasion, Saraceno plays both the role of curatorial advisor and artist.

Cosmic Concert is a constellation of artworks trying to turn the invisible structure of the relationships that the Universe is made of into something tangible. Set up at the heart of the exhibition dedicated to the theme of Spacetime, this immersive installation also features historical artefacts such as the Armillary Sphere from the 17th century which was used to study the trajectories of planets, the 1632 edition of the Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galilei, scientific instruments such as the Lisa Pathfinder spacecraft or the Nautilus wave detector, both used in the research on gravitational waves. This section also features an artwork by Marcel Duchamp, 3 Stoppages étalon, and the video The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

Over the centuries, the several instruments used by men to understand reality have become increasingly powerful and accurate, widening our field of observation and the horizons of our knowledge. The section entitled Limits describes the experience of the limits of our knowledge. The Big Bang’s fossile sound, the remote echo still permeating the Universe today, is at the centre of Laurent Grasso’s work The Horn Perspective. This work is a reflection on the world and the Universe that are impossible to detect with our senses alone, and it is displayed together with the AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) detector, currently operating on board of the International Space Station, searching for primordial antimatter particles and potential traces of dark matter in cosmic rays.

The itinerary ends with an area dedicated to crisis, one of the most frequently used words in our daily lives which actually has a positive connotation in the field of knowledge: only by going through a crisis and questioning one’s beliefs, it is possible to change models and therefore evolve. Next to the Gravity Pit, an exhibit to experiment with gravitational dynamics, visitors will see an interactive video installation called Curving space, where they can literally "plunge" into the concept of spacetime and work on its mass by deforming it. Finally, the video installation The Great Silence by Allora & Calzadilla, made by the artists in collaboration with sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, is a reflection on human beings’ relationship with the world and the Universe.

Gravity. Imaging the Universe after Einstein attempts to unveil the underlying depths of the known Universe, as well as the mechanisms linking all the people involved the quest for knowledge, in a collective process where artists, scientists and philosophers play an equally significant role. This is why, alongside the exhibition, there is a broad programme of events to delve deeper into the subject, entitled Gravity. Beyond the exhibition.

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