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Scottish Creative Collision

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Libeskind brother and sister join forces with their famous architect father for art exhibition and talks exploring the nature of our universe

New York-based artist Rachel Libeskind and her cosmologist brother Noam are undertaking their first creative collaboration for an exhibition exploring the nature and origins of the universe.

Another contributor will be their father Daniel, the architect behind the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Ground Zero in New York and the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, home to Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology.

The exhibition, Cosmic Collisions, Birth, Rebirth and the Universe, is at Merz Gallery in the Scottish town of Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway. It launches at a special event on Friday 23, June and runs to 10 September.

Rachel has used laser etchings on metal to reproduce cosmological maps created by her brother and his colleagues that depict how objects, including galaxies, are moving through the universe.

She sees artistic work of this kind as an effective means of cutting through the complexities of theory to reveal the beauty and fundamental essence of science.

Rachel says: “I have always been fascinated by my brother’s work and we have wanted to collaborate for ages but this is the first time we’ve managed to do so.

“In some ways art and science are opposite realms. Art uses emotional responses and feelings to create understandings and isn’t aiming to prove anything.

“What’s so interesting about this work is that you look at these 2D renderings of how matter disperses through the universe and it could be all sorts of things. It could equally be a biological form or a map of information flow through the internet.

“It’s as if organic forms mimic each other, and even the way humans organise information follow the same sort of simple patterns.”

Rachel is also interested in the issue of scale and the way humans often tend to see themselves at the centre of the universe, when in fact they are infinitesimally small. This is something she has emphasised by placing a line a small “You are here” dot on one of the maps.

Noam, who is the Deputy Head of the Cosmology and Large Scale Structure Group at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, was a film studies student before “dropping out” to study maths and theoretical physics.

He now researches the universe at its largest scale. The maps are the result of decades of international collaboration, using some of the most sophisticated technology ever created by humans, to chart the distance, velocity and trajectory of objects that can be hundreds of millions of light years from Earth.

He said: “It’s great to be collaborating with Rachel on an arts project like this. One of the great challenges for scientists is that we are often in quite small and specialised groups, so only a few thousand people round the world fully understand your field.

“We really need to find ways of talking to the rest of society about what we do and why it matters. Art is one of the ways we can do that.

“In the case of my work, I think that humans have a natural curiosity about the universe. They have always looked up and wondered what’s out there and how it works. We don’t all want to be studying these subjects ourselves but we like to know that somebody is.”

Noam has previously collaborated with his father on the design of a large chandelier that uses LEDs to mimic the cosmic light that permeates the universe.

Exhibition curator Tim Fitpatrick says: “Rachel’s work represents a conversation between a new generation, the people who are shaping our scientific and cultural futures.

“It’s quite something for us to be able to show the first collaborative artwork by two such remarkable people whose work is doing so much to challenge and inform our knowledge and perceptions.”

The exhibition will also feature previously unseen drawings by Daniel Libeskind which show how the shape of spiral galaxies influenced his design of the Ogden Centre. A new series of paintings by Charles Jencks will also be on show. These look at how seemingly calamitous events like the collision of galaxies are immensely creative, leading to the birth of millions of new stars.

The opening of Cosmic Collisions, Birth, Rebirth and the Universe exhibition is timed to coincide with a wider series of Cosmic Collisions events which includes a day of talks by scientists (including Noam), artists and architects on 24 June.

These will explore a variety of themes about the nature of the universe. One of the highlights will be Charles Jencks and Daniel Libeskind in conversation.

The space scientists delivering talks are:

  • Martin Hendry, Glasgow University Professor of Astrophysics, a leading member of the 1,000-strong international LIGO-Virgo team, which recently detected ripples in space and time caused by the collision of two black holes three billion light years from Earth.
  • Carlos Frenk, Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics and Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University
  • Monica Grady, Open University Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences
  • Noam Libeskind, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Deputy Head of the Cosmology and Large Scale Structure Group.

About Rachel

  • Rachel is a multi-media artist who often combines performance with other forms such as drawing, painting of sculpture.
  • She is currently creating bodies of work on subjects as varied as the death of Stalin and the circumcision of Christ.
  • Raised in Germany but living in New York, her work tackles subjects of international interest and often with historical links. One of her deepest fascinations is with authoritarianism and how it can emerge in almost any society, with the general population sometime acquiescing in the loss of their own rights.
  • She has a show called 1946 at the New Release Gallery, New York on 6 October and another entitled Communion in Confirmation at ChlORO, Mexico City, on 27 October.
  • Find out more at

About Noam

  • Studied at UCL then Cambridge after dropping out of film school in the USA where he was acing in mathematics but not enjoying the film.
  • He is deeply concerned about the disconnect between science and society and the way that some politicians are attempting to undermine fact-based knowledge and condemning experts. He has been highly supportive of the recent marches and action days in support of science.
  • Noam decided to study theoretical rather than applied science because he wanted to be involved with something which people could not misuse.
  • He takes the same view as the likes of Einstein that science is for the whole of humanity and points to the folly of those like Fritz Haber, Nobel prizewinner and father of chemical warfare, who used his skills to make weapons.
This project is part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Union – LEADER 2014-2020 programme
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