Matthew Ritchie is an artist who thinks like a physicist. You’re just as likely to get him talking about quantum mechanics as, say, Jackson Pollock, an artist with whom he is sometimes compared. The conversation is infinitely more complex when physics dominates, as Ritchie’s artistic goal is to chart new territories of representation- which can be as difficult to conceptualize as outer space itself-in order to develop what could be called an aesthetics of physics.
Ritchie began his artistic investigation of the cosmos in the mid-1990s. On a gridded piece of paper, he listed all the tools he had at his disposal to understand the world among them science, sex, and solitude. This two-dimensional map quickly transformed into a creation story that charted the origin and history of the universe from the big bang to the present and soon thereafter morphed into large and often interactive, site-specific installations. One of his most recent works covers the roof and upper hallways of a federal courthouse in Oregon designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne.
Physicists have long struggled, to little avail, to visually represent their theories in an accessible, transparent manner. How, for example, to represent quantum physics’ concept of the space-time continuum-the idea that everything can be everywhere at any time? Or the tenets of string theory physics’ latest, yet unproven, concept about the origin and evolution of the universe, which asserts that the cosmos consists of invisible loops of energy? For Ritchie, who sees the whole universe as one big experiment, art presents an equally strange and abstract space of investigation.
AESTHETICS OF PHYSICS by Bridget Goodbod, originally published in Art on paper.