What if we could look at the sun with x-ray vision (contact x-ray plates on the Vulcan Target Area West vacuum chamber, 36 separate shots)

2018

Alistair McClymont with C M Brenner, S R Mirfayzi, D R Rusby, C Armstrong, A Alejo, L A Wilson, R Clarke, H Ahmed, N M H Butler, D Haddock, A Higginson, C Murphy, M Notley, P Oliver, R Allott, C Hernandez-Gomez, S Kar, P McKenna and D Neely

36 photographs (200cm x 193cm), research paper, welded shut aluminium cube containing hair dryer (20cm x 20cm x 20cm)

Essay on artwork: https://goo.gl/QN96xR
Research paper: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0741-3335/58/1/014039

What if we could look at the sun with x-ray vision (contact x-ray plates on the Vulcan Target Area West vacuum chamber, 36 separate shots) is a collaborative artwork created with scientists at the Central Laser Facility in Oxfordshire, England. I was invited to be part of their experiment as an artist as well as an active scientific participant, their aim was to demonstrate the effectiveness of laser technology to see through layers of material using x-rays and neutron beams. My goal was to investigate the strong similarity I see between scientists and artists. My hypothesis is that both ultimately search for truth and both see beauty in that truth.

During the experiment I performed a number of actions that were important to the experimental process. I created test objects to be blasted by x-rays and imaged by the team. I also set up my own diagnostic equipment that was able to image the plasma formed by the laser in much greater detail than any of the scientists’ equipment, which detected data that proved crucial to the experiment. This resulted in my inclusion as an author on the research paper, published in Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion. The paper included the x-ray images of my test object and a photograph of the plasma from the equipment mentioned above.

I created another image during the experiment using digital radiography plates sensitive to x-rays. The central image is a plate created by the scientists to calibrate the experiment. Using the same method, I attached plates onto the outside of the chamber in a different place every time they took a new shot (fired the laser and created plasma). The result is a two-metre-by-three-metre image of the vacuum chamber bathed in x-rays. The experimental equipment, nuts, bolts and the chamber itself casts an image in the x-ray light. The x-rays themselves were created, alongside huge amounts of other radiation by a laser driven plasma in the centre of the chamber. This plasma was as hot as the sun, with pressures similar to the centre of the earth.

This image was credited to all of the authors of the research paper, which included myself. These artefacts—the x-ray photograph, the research paper, and the test object—become a single artwork. They are an attempt to conceptually unite the endeavours of art and science. I became a scientist and the scientists became artists in quite a literal way, while the art and science became inseparable.