by Panos Charitos. Published: 27 May 2015

Nikos Papadopoulos, the winner of Accelerate@CERN, Greece spent the last month at CERN interacting with scientists from various experiments. During his stay he discussed with many scientists including a number of physicists from ALICE. During an earlier visit in November, Nikos had the chance to see the ALICE Cavern where he was guided by Despina Hatzifotiadou, ALICE Outreach Coordinator. The number of particles that ALICE tracks and identifies during heavy-ion collisions drove his inspiration on his project called the “Garden of Particles”. Earlier in May he finished his one month research at CERN and we met him for a short interview.

Accelerate@CERN is the country specific one month research award for artists who have never spent time in a science laboratory before. The winner of the Greek award, held in collaboration with the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens and funded by the Onassis Foundation, was the Greek visual artist Nikos Papadopoulos. Nikos was chosen according to the jury for his artistic record and the originality of the project “which combines the study of nature and science in a way that highlights both the conceptual background of the link between them and the aesthetic aspect of the visual approach that the artist will attempt”.

Q: The idea of "garden" is a central axis of your work. How exactly is an artist inspired by this concept?

A: The preoccupation with gardens has been the subject of my searches for many years, as I want to promote the human-nature relations within the historical, philosophical, and aesthetic frameworks in which they arise. By studying what happens in experiments at CERN, I suggest creating a garden of particles besides writing a detailed report on the experience of my stay in the lab.

The garden is man's attempt to master nature. Between the "wild nature" and the urban environment, the garden is a protected "intermediate" environment separated from the rest of the world, "within the walls" of which we can explore and experiment, test and judge, accept or reject our thoughts about the relationship of humans with nature and the universe. Moreover, this discussion can be extended to issues related to privacy and public space, as well as to life and death, since the content is mainly organic, alive, and perishable.

At the same time, this protected environment provides conditions for promoting culture with both meanings of the term, i.e land and spirit. In short, the garden constitutes a microcosm exercise of the art of life and the conquest of "living well."

Q: How are these ideas connected to the LHC and CERN?

A: Considering the above, my proposal is to opt for a more poetic approach of the CERN experiments. Is the geographical area occupied by CERN but an extensive "fence" with a perimeter of 27 km? Is the LHC an intermediate environment, "within the walls" of which the scientists decide which elements of nature to isolate, explore and experiment on, much like gardeners choose which elements of nature to plant in their garden?

The concepts of transport and speed, which have been linked to cultivation and, by extension, gardens for centuries, can be subjects of artistic research that will continue to develop, as on-site observation at CERN can only enrich it. The relationship of the macrocosm with the microcosm, which arises from studying particles as well as plants, can also be such a subject.

Q: Why is a residency at CERN important for your artistic development?

A: To understand my ideas and the importance of my work experience at CERN, I think it is first necessary to make a brief introduction to the process of painting. My projects are based on repeating the dot, namely using the minimum of the hitherto traditional media of painting, i.e. dots of pencils and ink. Thus, through repetition of the dot in a different place every time, I create works that often surpass two dimensions.

In a sense, I follow a process both similar to and somehow reverse from the one followed by the CERN experiments. I contrast the dot – the elementary particle of a painting – with the fundamental particles of physics, and the finished painting with the universe to understand their relationship. It is a consistent process from the smallest constituent (dot/ particle) to the whole (painting/ universe).

However, I also follow the reverse process because what matters for me is the result (painting/ universe), while, for a natural scientist, the universe is the starting point for searching the smallest constituent, as a means of grasping the big picture, namely how the greater whole was formed. In this relationship, the natural scientist can be compared with an art historian, who analyses finished paintings.

As I follow a process that is related to space-time, my main focus is to get more feedback, ideas, and inspiration for my research during my stay at CERN. The artistic process is not a one-way path and we have to reflect on new data – whether they come from science or other sources – and develop a constant dialogue with them.

Watch an inverview of Nikos Papadopoulos with Julian Calo, coordinator of the Arts@CERN programme:

The author would like to thank Athena Papageorgiou Koufidou for her valuable contribution.