Portal: Artist’s Statement

The Portal sculpture and sound installation celebrates the100th anniversary of Einstein’s discovery of general relativity, creating a unique window for observation and discovery associated with the dynamics of matter and space.

The initial catalyst, a series of complex wire sculptures created to celebrate
the centennial of Einstein’s discovery of special relativity, was exhibited at the American Center for Physics, in 2005. In the exhibition essay, curator, Sarah Tanguy describes the work: “Kamen’s wire sculptures honors Aaron Bernstein, whose19th century writings on popular science kindled the imagination of the young Einstein…. With science as her inspiration, Kamen avidly probes the world around her to find a means to describe her research. Rich in associations, her work draws on intuition and the language of abstraction to convey individual ideas and emotions. And though not literally kinetic, her wired-based sculptures succeed in suggesting motion and change, while instilling an empathetic wonder in the viewer. ”

Further research of astronomical rare books and manuscripts as artist residence at the American Philosophical Library in 2007 included an opportunity to view the notebooks of John Archibald Wheeler. Wheeler, a colleague of Einstein, has made significant contributions to the fields of astrophysics with his early research on gravitation, and for coining the phrases black hole and dark matter. His notebooks filled with personal / professional memorabilia and lecture and research notes, created a portal of possibilities for artistic interpretation of the physics of black holes and relativity.

Interviews with scientists and science historians at Harvard University’s Center for Astrophysics have also contributed additional inspiration for the work, as did research of the “Women Computers” of the Harvard College Observatory. The women computers developed a system of stellar classification used to interpret the observatory’s vast astronomical glass plate slide collection in the late 19th century. Viewing tiny points of light on large, blackened glass plates in this special collection contributed early views of outer space, and inspired the title, Portal.

Additionally, dialogues with astrophysicists Scott A. Hughes, Professor of Physics at The Kavli Institute at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Manuela Campenelli, Director of the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation at the Rochester Institute of Technology provided valuable insight that helped to inform the artistic vision for the Portal sculpture and sound installation. Inspired by gravitational wave physics and Einstein’s notion of Gedankenexperiment (thought experiment), the installation interprets the tracery patterns of the orbits of black holes and the outgoing wave of this event.

Sound artist and collaborating partner on the Portal installation, Susan Alexjander, has created a haunting soundscape utilizing a variety of sounds originating from outer space, including sonic frequencies representing a binary pair of orbiting black holes, enhancing the viewers experience of this artistic interpretation of general relativity.