PPE:What Can The Matter Be?

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Engineering


The relationship between culture and materials is most obviously demonstrated in the naming of ages of civilizations after materials, such as the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. The defining material of the Victorian era, steel, allowed engineers to give full rein to their dreams of creating suspension bridges, railways, steam engines, and passenger liners. In doing so, engineers used steel as a material manifesto to transform the landscape and to sow the seeds of modernism. We will produce an MP3 science tour of the Tate Modern to show that this interplay between science and art is encapsulated in the museum. We will explore the evolution of the ancient pigments through to the newer organic pigments that ushered in the Expressionist period. We will consider the science of brightness, hue and saturation, colour wheels and the origin of pure and complimentary colours. We will focus on a number of paintings including Yves Kline's 'IKB 79' which features his International Klein Blue and Anish Kapor's powdered pigment sculptures.We will introduce the wide range of materials used in sculpture at the Tate Modern and how the physics of each material affects both the aesthetics, sensual properties and shaping possibilities. We will consider the materiality of sculptures in Naum Gabo's 'Head No. 2' and Salvador Dali's 'Lobster Telephone'. We will explore questions such as whether the introduction of rapid prototyping will do to sculpture in the 21st century what photography did to painting in the 20th century.The engineering of installations will be considered, such as that for Cornelia Parker's 'Cold Dark Matter; exploded Shed' and other complex installations in the Tate Modern. We will explore the relationship between artists and the engineers they hire to construct their work and how this relationship might affect the outcome of the final work. Examples such the current Rachel Whiteread 'Embankment' (with its innovative use of polyethylene) will be considered, but the 2006 Turbine Hall installation will be the focus. Contemporary art is if anything a more difficult subject than science to communicate with the public, and yet Tate Modern is one most visited art museums in the world, it attracts more than 4 million visitors per year. Many of whom are rarely found going to a science event, museum or lecture. We want these people to download our MP3 tour onto their iPods and to discover that a knowledge of chemistry, materials and engineering enhances their experience of art and allows them to decode the complexities and subtleties of our culture. We hope that this will be a catalyst for them to accept our invitation to visit the Materials Library at King's College London and to interact with the scientists who study both the sensual and physical properties of materials.


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Title Tate Podcast: What Can The Matter Be? 
Description A podcast looking at the materials science of the art in Tate Modern. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2007 
Impact After the launch in April we climbed the iTunes rankings and in May 2007 our podcast became the most downloaded Arts podcast in the UK, beating even BBC Radio 4's Front Row, see figure 3. Since we know that the monthly download figures for Front Row are 58,811 (as monitored by BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/siteusage/), we can confidently estimate that our podcast has been downloaded by tens of thousands individual subscribers. In May 2007 the podcast was rated as the 56th most downloaded podcast in the UK in all categories, again confirming its impact and popularity. 
URL http://www.materialslibrary.org.uk/materialslibrary/events/whatcanthematterbe.htm
Title Materials Library 
Description The Materials Library is a collection of some of the most wondrous materials on earth, gathered from sheds, labs, grottoes and repositories around the world. It is a resource, laboratory, studio, and playground for the curious and material-minded to conduct hands-on research through truly interdisciplinary inquiry and innovation. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2006 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Materials Libraries have become a tool worldwide for connecting materials scientists and materials practitioners from the arts and cultural industries. 
URL http://www.instituteofmaking.org.uk/materials-library
Description Cheltenham Festivals 
Organisation Cheltenham Festivals
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2008
Description Tate 
Organisation Tate
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
Start Year 2006
Description Science of Tate Modern 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The events and the podcast also provided a new arena to which future generations of engineers and scientists might see themselves contributing. In the podcast this was due in large part to the conversational and playful quality of the tracks, which nevertheless encapsulated a passion and awareness of the details of the art and science.
"I am personally not a fan of modern art but when the track started playing, I immediately connected with the speaker." [in reference to track 13]
"A bit more of a philosophical piece, that you pull off very well, with good energy. Perhaps would be a bit weird if I'd started with this one, but as I took the tour in order, I'd started thinking about art and materials enough that I was ready/open to it." [in reference to track 10]
"it made you think about materials and sounds and also how we don't really live in world where we're just interacting with one-dimensional things, we're living in a three dimensional space all the time but unconsciously and that, that piece sort of and that combination and the commentary and the sound just made you, kind of, aware of that." [in reference to track 3]
"Really, really great - I listened to it each time I took the escalator! An intriguing mix of tunes, and a nice surprise to hear my favourite cheesy Chris Isaak song in there...!" [in reference to track 9]
Despite the good qualities of the podcast, there is no doubt that the Events were more influential. This is to be expected, given the immediacy and energy of a live performance and also the chance to see artists, designers, engineers and scientists all experimenting with materials.
"It was a most intriguing evening. My first thought concerns language. Some of the audience were using words rarely said in an art gallery - 'force', 'velocity', 'pressure', 'sound waves'. The whole language of the evening was different. In that (Tate) context I'm used to a vocabulary of art and think and communicate around 'form' 'colour' and 'spatial relationship' - a language for a visual medium. I kept hearing something quite different and eventually tried to start thinking along those lines too - moving out of my own box! Others were doing the same, moving out their science boxes.... and the result was we were all out of our boxes, milling around in some middle space, using what vocabulary we could to talk about what we were seeing. I liked that very much - unusual, a bit taxing, and it needed thinking about." [email received in reference to Materials Gestures Event]
The huge popularity of the podcast to the Arts audience, resulting in the podcast becoming the most popular Arts podcast in the UK in May 2007 is also an indication of the impact on public debate. Media coverage of the project included an invite to explore the themes on BBC Radio 4's Materials World and Radio Five Live's Anita Annad programme. The project was also covered favourably in the print media, The Times making I podcast of the week (5th May 2007) and commenting:
While other art galleries go for the radio/magazine programme style in their podcasts, Tate Modern has opted for a bite-size approach with its "What Can The Matter Be?" series. In a collaboration with a team from the Materials Library, each brief piece explores the crisscrossing of materials, science and art in unlikely ways.
This also led to further media interest in the general theme of the impact and relevance of the science to the arts. Thus we were subsequently interviewed for two segments on the materials science of building facades for the Channel Four TV programme Grand Designs: Trade Secrets (to be broadcast in 2008). We also contributed a feature for BBC Radio 4's Leading Edge on the engineering of Doris Salcedo's Crack at Tate Modern (8th Nov 2007).

In this project we have focused on communicating one of our central beliefs which is that science and engineering are part of culture and not separate from it. We have influenced the climate of public engagement by investigating novel methods and approaches to communicating science in Arts institutions. We have demonstrated it effectiveness, through the download numbers, and also by gaining further commissions from not just from the Tate but also from other institutions, for instance the email below from the Wellcome Trust shows the process by which our event ended up with a new commission:

I hope you recall our conversation at one of your highly successful Materials Library nights at Tate Modern last autumn. I was incredibly impressed by the evening and by the enthusiasm and creativity of your team. Rarely have I seen an evening when the audience engages in such genuine discussion with the experts as well as with one another - and I've certainly been to plenty of events where it might have happened. I think I mentioned to you that I am running the events programme for Wellcome Collection, experimenting with different venues and formats just now and preparing for a spectacular opening events season.
Lisa Jamieson
Events Manager - Public Programmes Wellcome Trust

This email ultimately resulted in the Wellcome Trust commissioning us to produce FLESH: a hugely popular late night event (300 people) held at the Wellcome Collection on 9th November 2007 (www.wellcomecollection.org). The Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum have consulted us in 2007 on various aspects of public engagement with materials. In the case of the Science Museum (Teresa Teixeira) for their Spying exhibition and new Launch Pad. The V&A (Juliet Fritsch) have consulted us regarding their preparations for the revamp of their Glass and Ceramics galleries scheduled for 2009. Finally the Thames Festival used our podcast as a template for an arts/humanities/science audio tour of the river, for which we consulted and contributed tracks. The festival took place on the 16th/17th Sept 2007 and was attended by more than 100,000 people: www.thamesfestival.org/cn/education. The CI disseminated the work at science communication conferences in South Korea, London, Germany and at the European Science Education Research Association conference in Sweden, of which he is president.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007
URL http://www.materialslibrary.org.uk/materialslibrary/events/presents.htm