I grew up in a small town in India on the shores of the Bay of Bengal where I would spend long hours watching the waves crashing into the quiet beaches. Its immensity would evoke various emotional responses within me. I would be in awe with its quiet beauty, fear its power, calm in its repetitiveness, curious by its depth, excited by its unpredictability and an indescribable respect for its secrets. There was this oxymoronic feeling about it as it seemed tangible and unapproachable at the same time, longing to understand its mysteries and yet not disturb it. There was a timeless quality in its ephemerality, as the quiet ups and downs of the large waves in the horizon would break up into millions of smaller swirls as it arrived at the shore. This fascination has continued over the years and now I experience a similar feeling as I learn more about gravitational waves. They begin their journeys so far away in space and time, and yet pass through us and we have no clue.
Leilhae and I had a very interesting conversation a few day back and we discussed various aspects of gravitational waves. We talked about how its amplitude and frequency change as the black hole binary pair moves closer to each other in their orbits, leading to their eventual collision causing disturbances in the curvature of spacetime that propagate as waves. She also described the process of lensing that occurs when the propagation of these waves are influenced by gravitational fields of massive objects and how this affects the waves before they reach Earth. Leilhae also described how matching the observed information with the simulated ones in the template bank informs the scientists about the masses of the individual black holes and the final coalesced black hole. We talked about various other topics like information paradox, wormholes and fine structure constant. Leilhae also described her fascinating job as an astrophysicist, researching cutting edge science.
I think when it comes to translating this very precise research into art we are both changing gears and seeking traditional hands-on techniques to approach the concepts. The Cosmic Design series has been evolving over the years as I introduce new elements and concepts, with the latest being embroidery with black and white thread inspired by gravitational waves and black holes. I plan to work on it with pen and ink too. Leilhae is continuing to work on her shibori project and we have been thinking of exchanging some of her shibori dyed cloth and my handmade paper to create collaborative pieces. I will embroider and draw on the shibori piece while Leilhae will dye the handmade paper to create patterns inspired by the cosmos. We hope to work towards a joint installation sometime in the future.
What I work on lately is to study the structure of spacetime with gravitational waves. Spacetime, as we understand it, is defined by its geometry, a "Riemannian manifold with Minkowskian properties in the weak-field limit". This cryptic sentence is merely an homage to the mathematicians who developed the formalism describing our Universe, and mainly means that it possesses a specific curvature although it appears flat when the gravitational attraction is not too large. However, this story does not explain it all. It let aside the core of the black holes, the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, and even its birth as we cannot derive equations for what happens at the Big Bang. So we are trying to find the missing pieces of the puzzle so we can grasp the phenomena that escape our narration. What if, gravitation was mediated like a particle like the other forces, or what if spacetime had more dimensions, we wonder? This is the work of a physicist: to imagine new worlds and derive how those worlds would be if we lived in them. Then we confront those imaginary lives, where we would detect gravitational waves that would for example lose energy as they travel in spacetime, with the one we live in. How is my signal behaving? Does it seem more consistent with the standard theory, or does it interact with spacetime in a new way? As I discuss with Shanthi, I tell the tale of those waves carrying the energy of several suns across the cosmos, disturbing its fabric although not emitting a sound. We discuss transmitting this feeling of immensity, the sensation of a travel through the Universe, but also the structure of the objects and the fields, so it addresses our logic but also our senses. We talk about large pieces of fabric, intricate embroideries, patterns and irregularities, trying to get a project out of the emergence of the confrontation of our art and science. It will require more days, but we are both feeling that our exchange nourishes the embryo of an idea that may as well flourish into a beautiful piece. And as I go back to my empty office of the University of Zürich, I pass front of the hanging sculpture that I cross everyday. I then realize how it resembles Shanthi's installation Waves, and how it manifests its expansion into space, frozen under the staticity of the piece but moving along my sight as I go along the many intricate circular structures that reminds me - nothing is without movement, we are all wanderers when there is no reference frame.