The purpose of the If a Tree Falls in the Forest project was to communicate contemporary cosmology to a broader public audience using art and design practice as the primary medium for public engagement. In developing the artworks for the final exhibition, each of the collaborative teams focused on the challenges of translating complex scientific ideas through the language of visual art. Some used metaphor, some chose participation, some incorporated explanations using text, voice and sound and others led the public through workshops, screenings and activities which allowed each visitor to engage with a small aspect of scientific thinking or research.
Each artwork, workshop and activity led to discussions ranging from entropy and dark matter to demystifying algorithms and the meaning of life. There was a broader interest in our collaborative process and the challenges of communicating scientific concepts through art and design practice.
Confirmation of Time by Franziska Hatton, the participatory Algorithmic Tree Wall, by designer Ed Cornish and cosmologist Krishna Naidoo and Michaela French’s Algorithm Space-time Fabric drew animated responses from the visitors. Conversations about the structure of the universe, about the impact of entropy at terrestrial and universal scales, about the cosmos, about light, art and algorithms all unfolded in the exhibition in the centre of the forest.
Illustrator Olivia Sullivan brought the forest into the gallery with her Lenses of Perception workshops. Microscopes replaced telescopes, as she invited the audience to see for themselves the distortions, insights and value of observing the natural world through lenses. The botanical and cosmological illustrations emerging from these workshops were hung on the gallery wall alongside completed Activity Cards and audience responses to the exhibition.
The gallery became a place for ideas, for discussion and sharing knowledge. Over the four-week exhibition the artists and cosmologists who invigilated the exhibition responded to the questions that each artwork provoked. The audience entered into conversations about scientific research and humanity’s place in the cosmos. Through their collaborative process the artists found the confidence to discuss the scientific ideas which underpinned their cosmological artworks. The cosmologists learned the value of the art as a means of initiating conversations about their research. The exhibition as a whole enabled a dialogue through which the scientists, the artists and the audience were able to find crucial points of overlap in their understanding of the cosmos and our place within it.