This is a very, very interesting residency. He’s interested in the chalkboards too.
Berman has explored the debatable land between science and art for several years, perhaps most notably in a Cartier Award-winning performance piece at the 2009 Frieze Art Fair with conceptual artist Jordan Wolfson. He cautions against a literal approach to artistic collaboration. “You’re not going to look at these objects and understand string theory.” What he is interested in is the richness and potential inherent in the new ways of describing and understanding nature that contemporary physics research offers, and how contemporary art can interpret these.
The collaboration, supported by grants awarded by the Westfield Trust and the Henry Moore Foundation, started when Berman placed an advert inviting applications from artists. The advertisement was, he says, “quite technical” in its specification of what the collaboration would explore, but also non-prescriptive: “I didn’t feel I understood what the appropriate medium would be.” Out of over 200 applications, Berman drew up a shortlist of ten for interview. “There were a number of different ideas shortlisted – tango was one,” he says (by coincidence, CERN currently has a choreographer in residence), but Davey’s proposal stood out. “Something about the geometry and physicality of sculpture fitted in with how I think about physics,” says Berman.
“Physics is very much built on a visual, geometric way of thinking,” says Berman. “Many mathematicians are very visual. In some sense Grenville and I are closer than people realise, because I often don’t think in terms of equations but in terms of rotating things or moving things around, and I think that came out early on.” Davey agrees, giving the example of how in one of their early discussions Berman grabbed an exercise ball to explain the curvature of space-time in general relativity. “David talks about an object in a similar way to how I would talk about it in my head.”