Quantum Futures: an artistic journey into the realm of quantum mechanics

Quantum Futures, hosted by Curiosity Collider at Museum of Anthropology with support from UBC Physics and Astronomy, and the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute, took us on an artistic journey into the counterintuitive realm of quantum mechanics. Before the evening’s main show, guests were encouraged to explore and experience the audio-visual performances, and scientific and virtual reality demonstrations.

At the entrance of the Museum of Anthropology, Matt Horrigan created an audio-visual performance, based around his understanding of the study of quantum physics as an art of subtraction. His piece came to life by excluding more and more elements from the viewer/listener’s perceptual field, until only its generic components remained. By examining and analyzing the interactions of the foundational sounds and images, the piece offered a glimpse into the axiomatic structures of the universe.

Niel McLaren‘s virtual reality experience was a play on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This theory posits that there are multiple alternate realities, possibly even an infinite number. In Niel’s work, we were transported to a parallel universe where we can question our idea of reality. What possibilities could alternate timelines hold? What makes our universe more real than others? What makes the physical universe more real than a digital one? These are the kind of provocative questions that this incredibly immersive technology will help us discuss in the future.

Virtual Reality Experience via Niel Mclaren

Curiosity Collider also worked closely with physicists from the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute, to develop hands-on activities that engaged people’s creativity, in order to engage them in discussions about the quantum world. Attendees learned the symbolic language that physicists use to describe the behaviour of subatomic particles, and were taken through a guided activity to learn how quantum materials are constructed. The guiding physicists presided over the activities, while answering any questions that the attendees had about the weirdness of the quantum world.

Within the Great Hall of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, we were treated to an evening of performances involving spoken word, projection sculpture, and dance, all of which confronted the border between our humanity and quantum peculiarity. The evening’s first performance involved the spoken word poetry of Angelica Poversky. Her three poems, all presented with great enthusiasm and energy, brought personality and relatability to the nano-scale of the subject matter. Angelica’s first poem, called ‘Strands,’ was a look into the invisible threads that influence our behaviour and interactions, and help to create the personal, subjective worlds that we each experience. Within her exploration of both the infinite and infinitesimal, she ended with a call for community and humanity between us all. This was followed up by her second poem, which gave a look at love through a quantum lens. In the contradictory feelings that we experience when lovestruck, a metaphor with the superposition of particles was formed. Capturing the ‘definite indecision,’ of our brains ‘on love,’ we got a chance to imagine how we can dive head first into the indeterminacy, and find meaning and peace in the uncertainty. Her reading concluded with ‘Stillness,’ a reflection on the role of observation and meditation. We are constantly trying to comprehend and analyze, yearning for the ‘tiny floating answers we seek.’ This final poem was a plea to both the acknowledgment of the things that we can’t know, as well as how our observations help to shape reality.

Next up was Kathryn Wadel, and her projection sculpture, entitled ‘Particle Wave.’ This piece was based on research that she had undertaken at TRIUMF, Canada’s premier particle accelerator, located just off the UBC campus. Her intention behind the work was to explore light as a medium for particle detection in physics, and for illumination in all contexts. In the 8 minute and 20 second video, which is the exact time required for a photon to travel from the sun to Earth, the viewer begins situated on a train car, traveling backwards as the tracks and platform recede. Throughout the increasingly psychedelic journey, the train tunnels warp into particle colliders, as we take on the photon’s eye view of its path through an accelerator. Accompanied by the ominous, electronic drone of the soundtrack, this projection sculpture created a hypnotic effect, along with feelings of timelessness.

The final performance of the night was a contemporary dance act, choreographed by Lesley Telford (Inverso Productions), and inspired by the mysterious phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Beginning with a tableau featuring the six dancers, movement, as well as interconnection and feedback between them, initiated slowly. This swell of ballistic movement brought the dancers to life, and they were soon flying back and forth across the performance space, in complexly connected patterns. As the dance moved through periods of chaos and grace, the stage was occupied by varying combinations of soloists, pairs, and groups, each with a unique bond within a pattern of entanglement. With a narrative structure driven by a voiceover monologue, we lived out the struggle of a quantumly entangled pair, exploring their strange connection, as well as the meaninglessness of time brought on by entanglement.

As a whole, the evening was a fascinating look at the many wonderful aspects of quantum mechanics, with great insight into how we can integrate them into our own lives and experiences. Thanks to the UBC Museum of Anthropology for hosting the event, and for all of the contributions from the artists and scientists alike.