The Void in Art and Science

Void, Vacuum, Emptiness, Nothingness.

These are all points that I have been referring to with my most recent blog posts, trying to grasp an understanding in the contemporary context of contemplation. To make a stance on the subject, I found myself immersed in its influence on modern art and science.

It is a concept that plays a crucial role in Modern Art and Modern Science, finding root from deconstruction and discourse from its past knowledgeable history. In 20th century Avant-Garde to Minimalism and post-WWII artistic movements, it found itself becoming ever immersive, sublimating its entirety and misunderstood profoundness through the context of the inclusive frame. In scientific pursuits, it found itself being recognized from philosophy to the actualization from theories bound in Quantum Physics and Einstein’s General Relativity.

The classical vacuum is defined as passive and undifferentiated; its evolution into the modern world has found it to be active, differentiated, and is quite dynamic. Where does it find its place in actualization, as opposed to natural state of not-becoming?

Empty space in classical physics and figurative art takes place in the absolute rigidity of the grid, where coordinates set the stage for action to take place (Classical Void as the frame of reference, coordinate system, receptacle, and container of action potential). Surpematism appropriates this observation of the Void with Malevich’s Black Square (1913), whereas the sensation of the white field and square are superimposed by the dominating void that describes a sensation beyond understanding; consequently in 1918, Malevich utilizes this void again, but through White on White: “The vacuum is filled with the most profound physical content” (Isaak Pomeranchuk, 1950). The Void must not be misinterpreted by the idea of space, where it is relationally defined by shapes and their interactions with one another, a lot of where Suprematism takes influence. Albeit the case, it does not mean that the Void has no shape.

Within the Void lies some form of geometry, albeit that there lacks gravity due to matterless space (Take note of Einstein-Hilbert action for gravity and principle of least action in vacuum field equations). Graviy can be coulped to matter, and the can be used in Einstein’s equation with energy-momentum tensor to define a topological space. All of the solutions pertaining Einstein’s equations in a vacuum can have different curvature (flat, negatively curved, positively curved). With the topologies of empty space, two local curvatures are predicted over the known global shape of the universe:

  1. A flat universe that is not spatially infinite can be defined as a torus.
  2. A positively curved universe can be a sphere or Poincaré sphere (dodecahedral space).

Not only is the Void differentiated, it is also active and dynamical. The cosmological constant and expansion and contraction of the universe is a well-known theory. The cosmological constant can act as a repulsive force that counters the attractive forces of gravity, allowing the potential for the universe to expand or contract or remain constant. This also calls for an understanding in the universe’s singularities, such as black holes and the Big Bang, where light and gravity cannot escape.

This observation can be depicted in the Spatialist Void, where many art works depict singularities within a space in relation to one another; the more entropy grows, the universe becomes more riddled with black hole singularities. Lucio Fontant’s Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1968) shows this through the liveliness of the background colours, but shows singularities with black strokes that stain the space. He further defines this in his prior piece, Concetto Spaziale (1952), that shows a black space that is riddled with swirling white dots.

Consequentially, Quantum Physics defines the phenomenon of the void through its Quantum field theory and Feynman graphs. Quantum field theory owns a classical action function which defines functionals that takes a function of time and space as input to result in a scalar. Quantum effects are then accounted for by terms labelled by the Feynman diagrams, representing a perturbative contribution to the amplitude of a quantum transition from some initial quantum state to some final quantum state. These diagrams can then be used as computational devices or possible configurations of a material plenum (interactions between photons and electrons [also refer to absolute plenum definition in Notes on Boredom]. This has also been depicted by artists — one example would be Regina Valluzzi’s Tadpole Diagrams at Play (2011). The aesthetic value of Feynman diagrams that incorporate the dynamical Void can be translated to these art pieces, and somehow can infer meaning and correlative measure to this nothingness (of which, may not have even been intended).

Another point where the Void is in Quantum Physics is the vacuum bubble. These are virtual particles emerging form a vacuum interacting and disappearing back into the vacuum, which can be observed in graphs that have no external edges. These virtual particles contribute towards the cosmological constant where volume can be regularized in QED vacuum energy as its limit reaches infinity (even though this has been cosmologically inaccurate through observation). Quantum foam is an example of this bubbling in and out. Ordinary large scales of space-time appears smooth, but near the Planck scale space-time loses its unperturbed surface and becomes a quantum foam of shapes bubbling out of the vacuum. This has also been seen in art through Yves Klein’s work regarding Relief Éponge Bleue; the artwork’s surface is seen as bubbling and rough, albeit there are coordinates that show a smoother surface in relation to the obvious bubbling.

Void also has energy. An evidential phenomenon known as the Casimir Effect predicted in 1948 was brought to life in 1996 that conducted plates at submicron scale distance measured vacuum energy through electromagnetic waves where force was shown through attractive forces between two plates with the distance containing a space described as a vacuum. The gap only measured for virtual photons with wavelength multiple of the distance contributed to the vacuum energy. A similarly made art piece that depicted this was Rothko’s Black on Maroon (1958) and Light Red Over Black (1957) where a vacuous color can be seen between two ponderous columns.

A more understandable instance of the vacuum can be seen in the multiverse landscape described best by Paul Steinhardt, who said “that no experiment can rule out a theory if the theory provides for all possible outcomes.” Part of the observation of the multiverse was Andrei Linde’e eternal inflation: chaotic bubbling of new universes with possibly different physical constants. This bubbling can also be seen in Kandinsky’s work where in his work Several Circles (1926) show the phenomenon with universes in different stages of inflation. It is also seen in Orphism where Sonja Delaunay’s Design (1938) identify spherical forms that may identify with the bubbling of the self-born multiverse.

The Takeaway

By observing these phenomenons and how they’re scientifically depicted, one can easily relate them to art pieces. In translation to the lens of photography, how would I be able to show this traditionally? Photographing similar looking expressions in the world that we see today can proliferate the idea of the Void in juxtaposition to cultural, societal, economical, and psychological commentary. If searching for those situations is not possible, I could also interpret it through mixed media that superimposes the images or accompanies the material as a separate piece, much likened to the pieces that are brought to light in this post. The creation of such could also call for another meaning in itself, most of which would be projection of my interpretations of experience. In regards to the scientific aspect, I would have to sublimate it in order to create a visceral and vicarious experience for the viewer. In order to do so, I’d have to consider my target demographic or the overall collective unconscious of a particular scope (group of people, town, city, state, country, the world) that would define the Void’s connotations in their particular response.

[Side note: There is no evidence to the art attributing to the phenomenons described in the scientific scope, but created the idea of utilizing these visual attributes to work; also notes are taken form the Plentiful Nothingness: The Void in Modern Art and Modern Science lecture provided by Matilde Marcolli in 2014]