Voss-Andreae is therefore either brave or foolhardy to try to represent quantum phenomena tangibly. Perhaps his greatest asset as a former physicist is that he realizes how much we don’t know. In some of his works, the inverted commas of analogy are explicit to the knowing eye. Quantum Corral (pictured) materializes something that could hardly be less material: the wave-like properties of electrons, first reported in Nature in 1927. Here, they are represented in a block of wood that has been milled to the contours of electron density seen in 1993 around a ring of iron atoms on the surface of copper through a scanning tunnelling microscope. The gilded surface reminds physicists that it is the mobility of surface electrons in the metal that accounts for its reflectivity, and the coloration of gold is itself a relativistic effect of the metal’s massive nuclei. For art historians, this gilding invokes the crown-like haloes of medieval altarpieces, but could also allude to the way gold was reserved in Renaissance art for the intangible: the other-worldly light of heaven.
I love the way Ball draws parallels between Renaissance gilding and gold atoms, moving from our common associations with gold (crowns, haloes) to imply more esoteric examples from various disciplines (Rutherford’s gold-foil experiment leaps to my mind – as do the swirling rhythms of the Battersea shield,which is actually bronze). This is the kind of evocative free-association triggered by good writing and good art – both Ball and Voss-Andreae are very good at what they do!
There’s an interview with Voss-Andreae in his studio (by Oregon Public Broadcasting) below the fold.
You may recognize the piece he’s making – it’s Angel of the West, an antibody-inspired (and da Vinci-inspired) sculpture seen a couple of years ago on Boing Boing.
Matter Wave Project V: Exhibition “Quantum Objects” featuring work by Julian Voss-Andreae runs October 2009 – April 2010 in the American Center for Physics, College Park, MD. Flyer here (pdf).