Cows aboveground, protons down below

On display at Fort l'Écluse from 19 June to 18 September, the works of Augenblick combine photography, sound and video to create a striking instant parallel between the "real world" and the world of particle physics.


The cows are grazing quietly, blissfully unaware of the mini-Big Bang occurring silently 100 metres beneath them. Curious to compare these two worlds - the visible and the invisible, day-to-day life and particle physics - Laurent Mulot, a multi-disciplinary artist whose work delves into some of the planet's more unusual places, has come up with a unique artistic concept. Called Augenblick (German for "instant"), to emphasise that the images relate to the same point in time, his project uses photography, video and sound to superimpose scenes from everyday life and scenes from science. "The idea came to me in June 2008," says Laurent Mulot, "when Jean-Paul Martin, a research scientist at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Lyon with whom I had worked the previous year for the Lyon Biennale of Modern Art, gave me the opportunity to visit the CMS control room." Starting from a vision of two worlds that,  in principle, exist in parallel, Laurent Mulot wanted to see whether these parallel worlds ever intersect. What if there were a crossover between the considerations of local residents and those of the physicists, and vice versa?

The visible. To achieve this, Laurent Mulot took the time to get to know the vast area on the French-Swiss border covered by the LHC and to meet the people who live there: "I worked over two periods, in spring and autumn 2010. As I travelled around I photographed animals, landscapes, architectures and buildings, and interviewed some of the residents: farmers and others too."


The invisible. To get images of the collisions, Laurent Mulot worked closely with physicists from ATLAS, CMS, ALICE and LHCb, with whom he talked with at great length. He explains: "If, for example, I photographed a cow grazing above LHCb at 4.33 p.m. on 23 May 2010, I would give this date and time to the experiment team so that they could give me, if possible, an image of an event that had taken place at that same moment." Although it was not always possible to achieve precise temporal synchronism, that was the goal both the artist and scientists were striving for.

If the project's many diptychs and videos create a fascinating parallel between the visible and the invisible, the music plays just as important a role. "When I looked at the land registry record I noticed that the LHC passed directly underneath the Ferney-Voltaire Music Conservatoiry!" exclaims Mulot. A coincidence? Perhaps. But mainly a good reason to work with their music teachers and students. The images of the collisions were scanned, converted into sound waves and then transformed into notes. These notes were then turned into a score called "Machine Sound" and "played" by six musicians on 18 June at the opening of the exhibition. Using these various media, Augenblick opens a door between two worlds. An avenue worth exploring.

Augenblick was created with the support of the Conseil Régional Rhône-Alpes and the Communauté des Communes of the Pays de Gex, and with the assistance of CERN and the ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb experiments, Lyon INP and CCIN2P3.

The works are currently on show at Fort l’Écluse, Longeray, route de Genève, 01 200 Léaz. For more information visit the Fort l'Écluse site. The exhibition will be rounded off at 3 p.m. on 18 September with a discussion led by Jean-Paul Martin and Laurent Mulot.


by Anaïs Schaeffer