A passion for what is hidden from human sight

Virginia Greco

Last January, visual artist Angelika Markul visited the ALICE experiment to get inspiration for a project about the Universe and its origin. We talked with her about her work.

ALICE's study of the infancy of the Universe attracted the attention and the interest of visual artist Angelika Markul, who came to CERN last January to visit the experimental site and see our detector. Of Polish origins, Markul has lived and worked in Paris since 1997, where she studied arts.

Her artistic production counts many multimedia installations including video projections, which are inspired by nature and her investigation of what is mysterious and hidden from human sight. Lately she became interested in big machines built by physicists and engineers to study the Universe under different points of view. One of these is the ALICE detector, which she wanted to see with her eyes to get more inspiration for a piece of art she is working on in this period. We interviewed her to learn more about this experience and her projects.


Ms Markul, how did you become interested in particle physics in general and, in particular, in the ALICE experiment?

In the framework of my current research and my work, I oriented my attention towards three scientific machines – the largest and the most complex ones – which allow us to learn more about our origin and where we come from. The first machine I got interested in is the ALMA telescope in Chile, which looks towards the sky. Then, I became interested in the ALICE experiment and the research concerning our creation, as well as in how particles are used to recreate the conditions after the Big Bang to shed light on the functioning and the origin of our universe. Finally, the third machine is the FAST radio telescope in China, which aims at detecting potential forms of life in other galaxies.

You visited CERN and went underground in the ALICE cavern to see our detector. What are your impressions? What did you get from that experience?

It was a unique experience. The capacity and complexity of the machine is immense. I could not imagine how it can work, it is overwhelming. I was disappointed, however, because the magnet doors were closed. I would have loved to discover the heart of the machine and its technology, to see her bowels more closely.

Do you think that this visit will inspire you to produce some piece of art? If yes, what do you think you would like to realize?

Yes of course. I came back to my studio to make a video about the three topics and places I mentioned before: the Atacama Observatory, the Alice Experiment and the FAST radio telescope. I hope to be able to complete this project by early 2019 and I would like to go back to CERN to film and have access to the heart of the machine.

This means that you want to learn more about CERN and ALICE, don't you?

Yes! As I said, I would like to return for a second shooting, as well as to discover other places and discuss more with scientists on the operation of the machine and what it tells us about our origin.

From where do you normally take your inspiration?

I am very interested in technology and, more generally, I work a lot on nature. My artistic work has always been rooted and involved with places that are missing, unknown or dangerous. I associate real facts and fiction or even science fiction. My latest film projects took me to the south of Japan on the Yonaguni Island to discover a monument buried under the sea the exact origin of which is unknown, as well as to the north of Mexico in the crystal mine of Naica, which it is now impossible to visit, and to Chernobyl to evoke this nature rebuilt on its own ruins. My last film, “The Memory of the Glaciers”, continues a process of reflection which started more than ten years ago around questions about memory, bodies and places, destruction and the cycle of life. Stretched between these paradoxes, my approach is always motivated by a desire to capture the images but also to carve them and make visible what is dark and hidden.

Alice Matters