Skip to main content

CERN, Ars Electronica introduce artist-in-residency program

Ars Electronica Center. Image: Nicolas Ferrando, Lois Lammerhuber

Scientists from dozens of countries and cultures mingle at CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider. Last weekend, the laboratory announced plans to introduce a new element into the mix: artists.

CERN and international cyberarts organization Ars Electronica will partner for the next three years to offer one part of CERN's new multidisciplinary artist-in-residency program, Collide@CERN. They announced Collide@CERN at the ceremony for the Prix Ars Electronica, the Oscars of the digital media arts world, held this year in Brucknerhaus Concert Hall in Linz, Austria.

The digital artist who wins the Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN prize will spend two months at CERN developing a project and one month working with the Ars Electronica Futurelab team to realize it. A committee of judges will choose one artist per year for three years.

Each artist will pair with a scientist at CERN. The two will meet every week and will document their experiences in a blog hosted on the Ars Electronica website. Ars Electronica will provide the prize money, while two private individual donors will fund the grant for the residency including travel and subsistence. UNIQA Assurances SA Switzerland will provide insurance.

The program is the brainchild of Ariane Koek, winner of a Clore Fellowship for cultural leadership. Koek, a former BBC producer, was serving as director of The Arvon Foundation for Creative Writing, which runs 140 residencies a year in the UK, when the award from the Clore Leadership Program gave her the chance to develop a new project. She was offered positions in New York, London and Canada, but she turned them down in favor of forging a new path.

Koek said she found inspiration during the course of a bike ride to the British library. She was thinking about what made her stand out from others in the arts. “I said to myself, ‘What makes you weird?’” she said. “I’ve got a really nerdy interest in science.”

She knew CERN was performing cutting-edge research in particle physics. Where better to create a partnership with those doing cutting-edge work in the arts?

“I can’t think of anywhere more exciting on earth to come,” Koek said.

Members of CERN management supported Koek, voting unanimously in favor of her idea to create a new cultural policy at the laboratory. “Science underpins much of modern society and has an influence on the everyday lives of all of us,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “As such, it’s important for scientific organizations like CERN to engage with society on many levels, and for us, Collide@CERN is an important element of that engagement.”

To truly embed the arts program at CERN, Koek organized a board made up of renowned cultural leaders from across the CERN host states: Beatrix Ruf, director of the Kuntsthalle Zurich contemporary art exhibition center; Serge Dorny, director general of the Lyon Opera House; Franck Madlener, director of the IRCAM music institute in Paris. CERN scientist Michael Doser will represent the laboratory, and Christoph Bollman of art fair ArtbyGeneve will represent nearby Geneva. The board members will serve free of charge for three years.

For his part, Doser hopes to translate his experience evaluating scientific proposals to evaluating artistic ones. “Both endeavors [art and science] require a mix of creativity and hard-headedness,” he wrote in an email. “Gently encourage vague thoughts as they first start forming, and then, when they’ve had a chance to gel, subject them to the harsh light of intellect.”

The digital arts section of the Collide@CERN program will accept applications between Sept. 15 and Oct. 31 on the Ars Electronic website. Applicants are asked to submit a personal video testimony, to pitch an idea for a new project, and to turn in a production plan and a portfolio of work. A five-person jury including two representatives from both CERN and Ars Technica and one outside judge will choose the winner in November. That same month the next section of the Collide@CERN program will be announced -- this one in dance and performance.