Artistic Residency: Martha W Lewis

Martha Lewis portrait

 Martha W Lewis in the office of the Yale Quantum Institute

One of YQI mandate is to perform outreach and explain Quantum Information across disciplines and in particular across the humanities-science divide. Initiated by Institute Manager Dr. Florian Carle, we welcomed  Martha W Lewis in September 2017, our first ever Artist-in-Residence for a year-long residency.

Scientists can define intangible forces with complex equations, but it’s harder for a general audience, or even scientists outside of the field, to grasp these concepts. Martha’s work as a visual artist might be able to bring a piece of the solution, as art allows her to bring emotions, colors, and volumes to the rules of science. It will allow a general audience to have a better understanding of quantum science and make this subject more accessible to people outside of the field.

During her residency, Martha interacted with our faculty members and students, attend our colloquia and work group meetings, and produced artworks in collaboration with YQI members to explain the complex concepts of quantum physics. Several open-to-all events were be held during the residency to showcase her work and explain her work process.

 “While scientists have strict guidelines for testing their theories about the universe, artists are free to express ideas without rigorous quantification”, Martha said. “Yet where art and science intersect, is in the use of visual metaphors to represent highly complex or unseen concepts.”

As a traveler visiting a strange land the people here were kind, hospitable, but also a bit wary. The question: “Do we NEED an artist in residence?” hung invisibly in the air, and because most scientists are themselves artists in so many ways, it was hard to succinctly encapsulate the WHY. I have stopped trying to answer it in this way, focusing on the HOW instead.

Remembering Memories - October 21-22, 2017

Remembering Memory, an installation composed of a magnetic core memory, a large-scale lattice, and a video extract of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when HAL gets his memory core removed.

While visiting the quantum laboratories, Martha stumbled upon a computer relic: a dusty piece of magnetic core memory core store in an old cabinet. The mesh on the memory slices were actually woven by hand, and the information contained on them is more stable than what we have now in computer hard drives. 

Remembering Memory, the installation created in the historic Eli Whitney Barn for City Wide Open Studio, dove into the history of computing, and of the “memory slices” that once made up the core memories of the room-size supercomputers that ushered in the information age.

Martha Lewis recreated a large-scale version of the magnetic core memory with wool and foam, that became one with the history Eli Whitney Barn.

The fragility and permanence of memory — what and how much we remember, what and how much we forget, and what we can recall — were foremost in Martha’s mind as she contemplated her barn piece. “I wanted a Zen garden where you think about memory,” she said. She considered her own memory, a tricky thing. “I think of my unconscious memory as pretty smart, and my conscious memory as pretty stupid.” With all that we forget, all that we lose, was it possible to capture some of it in art?

Rough around the edges, it offered a glimpse of what I was up to at YQI and gave me the perfect test site for a multi-facetted work that involved- in addition to the object and its technology- the history of women’s hand-labor, a meditation on the interrelationship between our own minds and the “memory” functions of the devices we make, science fiction, cinema and the metaphor of mind as a location – palace, garden or library and the impermanent state of our own brains. 

Looking at the lattice that Lewis had hung at the edge of her installation, which allowed viewers to look through it to fellow artists’ works beyond, and all the people coming and going on this warm fall day, it was possible to see that Lewis had expanded the idea she had come across from the first age of computing. She had made the entire barn, and everyone in it, into a memory slice. Even if the barn itself wouldn’t remember the weekend later, perhaps some of the people passing through it would.

See more photos of Remembering Memory in the gallery

Quantum Fluctuations - Permanent artwork

Unveiling of the mural at YQI on February 8, 2018

When you enter YQI, you are greeting by a colorful mural: Quantum FluctuationsThis piece is a metaphoric representation of the quantum-mechanical vacuum, in which every field undergoes random vibrations around its null value, on all scales of space and time. 

How the artwork manifested only came into being after having interacted with those at YQI. The mural is far more collaborative in nature than what I habitually produce, offering a sea-change from my usual solitary studio practice, much more in keeping with the collective methodology in operation at the institute. I had input as to the ramifications of the visual elements in process, I had skilled technical support, I had remote fabrication of the final work, all new experiences. I was -unusual for me- uneasy up until the installer finished his last burnishing stroke and we saw it in situ, shining in the light of the lobby, a reflected glow shimmering along the floor. Without risk nothing creatively special really ever happens, and I wanted to give the institute something special.

Martha amongst the quantum fluctuations

The artwork is part of Martha’s series ‘Branes, gouache on crumpled paper that was photographically
 rendered and digitally printed on vinyl. Photo by Luke Hanscom/Lotta Studios.

See more photos of the unveiling of the mural in the gallery

I’ll be your qubit! - June 9-23, 2018

New Haven sunset playing with the installation

I’ll be your qubit! is Martha Willette Lewis’ YQI final residency project in conjunction with the 2018 International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Each June, New Haven hosts this festival which brings together the world’s performing artists and thought leaders. We collaborated with the festival to present I’ll be your qubit! The entanglement of quantum physics and art which is composed of a panel talk and an art installation which was on viewing at YQI during all the festival.

 Interview on WPKN Radio Something about the origins of I’ll be your qubit!

Quantum Physicist Michel Devoret, Visual Artist Martha W. Lewis, and YQI Institute Manager, Florian Carle investigated the relationships between art and science, discussed their collaboration, and the benefits of engaging in multidisciplinary activities during the Idea panel talk.

From the beginning I have been fielding expressions of curiosity from the general public about YQI, about my projects. One of my functions is as a kind of visual translator, hopefully making what goes on at the institute a bit more tangible. The irony is that with things quantum “tangible” is a tall order, but this is what I do, I take ideas and model them into layered, nuanced, palpable things….

First group of Festival attendees to be part of the human-scale quantum experiment

The panel talk was followed by a guided tour of I’ll be your qubit!, an interactive immersive installation where the viewer is implicated in the experience. Referencing optical toys, early cinema and drawing on her experiences over the year at the Institute, Martha W Lewis has created, in partnership with professor Michel Devoret, YQI researcher Stefan Krastanov (who provided the technical wizardry for the installation), and Institute Manager Dr. Florian Carle, a special quantum diagram one can move through, turning the interior space of the institute into an oversized quantum experiment. In addition to the installation, drawing of the dilution fridges, as well as pictures of her other art installations during the residency will be on display.

Enter the artistic fridge! I’ll be your qubit is a representation of the cylindric cryofridges used in our laboratories to perform typical quantum information experiments.

All the senses of the visitors are engaged during the visit. Thaumatropes, optical toys popular in the 19th century, were given to the visitor to represent their quantum state. While it is physically impossible to see both side of the toy at the same time (as it would be impossible for a cat to be dead and alive!), the quantum world allows such superpositions of states. By spinning the thaumatropes between their fingers, the two sides start to appear to the visitors and would represent their excitement inside the fridge.

Visitors were offered colorful and mysterious ice-cubes to cool down them down upon entering the fridge. Each ice-cube have two distinct flavors, slowly diffusing in the visitors while they tour the installation, reinforcing the superposition of their state.

The soundtrack of the installation, based on recording inside YQI laboratories, links the mechanical sounds of the dilution fridges with human and natural sounds (door closing, laughs, snow storms…)

The installation reacts to the visitors and let them interact with its sensors, flipbooks, and quantum timestamp.

One of the 9 flipbooks the visitors can interact with. The flipbooks behave randomely until a visitor trigger the motion sensor (observer effect)

The installation features two basic quantum mechanics phenomena, the observer effect and the interference effect. The quantum observer effect corresponds to the act of measurement fundamentally perturbing the system under study. This effect manifests itself as the visitor/observer enters the enclosure of the experiment, modifying by their presence, the state of the installation.

Visitors realizing that the art installation is tracking their motion to perform quantum simulations and displaying the results with LEDs on the ceiling diagram

The quantum interference effect occurs here through the colors of the diagram, in which two incompatible possibilities are realized at once. Around each triangle, there is an even/odd number of red/blue corners. Just as one quantum particle can pass through two slits simultaneously, the color assignments of the diagram evolve as if they satisfy two incompatible patterns. Learn more about the science behind the installation on Stefan Krastanov’s blog.

The team behind I'll be your qubit!

The team behind I’ll be your qubit! taken by the motion sensor camera at the center of the installation and from the side.

A year at YQI - Image gallery