Julijonas Urbonas presents his CERN project at the Triennale Milano
When Accelerators Turn into Sweaters (2016-ongoing) results from his research at CERN on the properties and imaginary qualities of superconductors
Titled Unknown Unknowns. An Introduction to Mysteries, the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition presents more than a hundred works, projects and installations, trying to answer a series of questions about ‘what we don’t know we don’t know’. Involving designers, architects, artists, playwrights and musicians, the exhibition deals with the unknown in different topics: from the evolution of the cities to the oceans, from genetics to astrophysics.
In 2016, the Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas spent one month in residency at CERN, where he researched the unique properties and imaginary qualities of superconductors – an essential material for particle accelerators, being the Large Hadron Collider, the largest superconducting system in the world.
Remarkably, he was engaged in quantum magnetic levitation – a phenomenon that occurs when a superconductor at its critical temperature levitates over a magnetic source, known as the Meissner effect. The artist was experimenting with knitting superconductor fibres immersed underwater – non-coated superconductors can ignite under oxygen exposure – and looking into cryogenics to make them levitate. Urbonas started wondering how such a poetic abuse of technology could affect scientific language and metaphors. He materialised this insight into a CERN-like heritage object like the ones on view in the Laboratory’s collection, developing When Accelerators Turn into Sweaters (2016-ongoing).
He created a full-scale stainless steel replica of a section from the Large Hadron Collider and developed a way to weave these superconducting fibres into textiles. These cables dangle and entangle as a sweater-like knitwork object levitates in response to a magnetic field. ‘What such a staged thought experiment does to the metaphor of the building blocks (or rather threads) of the universe?’ the artist poses.