CERN: Between Science and Art | An Interview with Michael Hoch

Submitted by Fabian Peters on Sat, 03/12/2016 - 16:04
CERN: Between Science and Art | An Interview with Michael Hoch

Physics and photography in one art project? Scientist and photographer Michael Hoch proves that physics doesn’t always have to be theoretical. In his exhibition CMS – The Art of Science, he combines the seemingly disparate subjects of science and art in an awesome way. For his limited edition works, he opted for WhiteWall’s Direct Print on Aluminum. In an interview, he told us how compatible science and art can be, explained the concept behind the art@CMS project, and revealed how his photographs are perceived.

CERN pictures metal print 1
© Michael Hoch/ art@CMS

Hello Michael! You studied Health & Wellness and Physics at the University of Vienna and Engineering Physics at the Technical University, and then went on to get a PhD in Geneva at the CERN particle accelerator. On top of all that, how did you also get into photography?  During my studies in Vienna, I became intensely involved in photography. People in motion and people as a part of the manmade infrastructure—these were themes that had always fascinated me. The geometry of this infrastructure and the organic nature creates. Above all else, I was fascinated with the comparison between the strictly technological and the organic geometry. Even before I went to CERN in Geneva, I had staged two exhibitions of my photo art in Vienna.

What’s the concept behind the art@CMS project, and how did you come up with it?   I’ve been working as a Physicist at CERN since 1998, and since 2007, I’ve been involved in the development and launch of the CMS Experiment: A camera the size of a four-story building that can detect particle tracks with an accuracy equivalent to a fraction of the width of a human hair. It is not only a scientific marvel of modern engineering, but also a very aesthetic object in terms of shape and color. As an artist, I couldn’t resist this intense inspiration, especially because, as a Physicist, I have access to otherwise inaccessible positions, allowing me to capture this wondrous machine from a unique perspective.

CERN acrylic michael hoch

CERN acrylic michael hoch 2
© Michael Hoch/ art@CMS

When I started to exhibit my work, I noticed that art can help make complex scientific issues understandable. And that inspires curiosity about the big questions of mankind—even in societal circles that are not especially scientific. Artistically, I can only show my personal viewpoint. I reconciled this with my scientific side by inviting other artists to take part in the CMS Experiment. That’s how art@CMS came about. It is a program that brings artists from all around the world together with the CMS Experiment’s scientists to examine the scientific questions of particle physics. The works of art that came from it have been loaned to us by the artists, and we at CMS put on international exhibitions, seminars and discussions to promote the dialog between science and art among the public at large.

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CERN acrylic michael hoch 4
© Michael Hoch/ art@CMS

How compatible are science and art?   They are perfectly compatible, because they both have the same origins. Up until the 18th century, art was a scientific discipline. That is, many artists took a scientific approach in their documentation and studies. The merging of the disciplines reached an apex in the renaissance with Leonardo da Vinci. Also, I believe it’s an interdisciplinary dialog that enables us to take the next step forward culturally.

For your current exhibition, “CMS The Art of Science”, which runs from February 27 to April 10 in Geneva’s Cité du Temps, you had WhiteWall produce six Direct Prints on Aluminum. Are you satisfied with the results?   In my current exhibition, all of the limited edition works are from WhiteWall. That also includes some Photo Prints Under Acrylic for my digital collages. For my new installation, “CMS for Tate Modern”, the prototype life-sized art installation of the CMS, I went with the Direct Print On Aluminum to reproduced that metallic sheen. I had my pictures from CMS made as Photo Prints under Acrylic Glass. With the WhiteWall products, my work makes the statement I want it to. And the quality is outstanding to boot!

CERN pictures metal print 2

CERN pictures metal print 3 michael hoch
© Michael Hoch/ art@CMS

You’ve ordered quite a lot from WhiteWall before. Which products have you tried and where can people see these works now? A gallery actually recommended WhiteWall to me. Some of my works are on display where I was able to put on the exhibitions—in the USA, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Greece, and Austria. When have pictures produced, I’ve always kept my eye on the quality above all else, and that’s why I opted for WhiteWall. My limited edition collages are all Photo Prints on Aluminum Dibond, about 39 by 39 inches or 59 by 59 inches.. The CMS photos for my exhibitions are Photo Prints Under Acrylic measuring 31 ½ by 31 ½ inches. The sculpture “CMS 4 Tate Modern” in the Cité du Temps is the prototype of a life-sized 18 x 18 meter (that’s nearly 60 x 60 feet) photo collage. It consists of 100 photos of the CMS that are each 100 cm. They are Direct Prints on Aluminum Dibond mounted on a digitally controlled lightbox. On the front of the lightboxes, there are pictures of the fingerprints of the subatomic processes – “photos” of the Higgs particles.

You’ve already shown your work in many exhibitions. How do people react to the pictures? How are they received?
My favorite series is the NaturalScience series, in which the CMS—an enormous scientific apparatus—merges with tiny little flowers. The reactions at exhibitions are always similar according to what kind of knowledge about it the audience has in advance. People from the scientific community recognize the CMS Experiment and ask: “That’s the CMS right? But what are all these splashes of color in between?” Those who aren’t familiar with CMS ask “Those are poppies, right? But what are these splashes of color in between?”

CERN pictures metal print 4 michael hoch

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© Michael Hoch/ art@CMS

What’s your artistic process and what kind of equipment do you use?   I dive into the subject and let its shape and character guide me. In particular, it is an observation of the details and their relationships. I mainly use a Canon 5D with various lenses. Sometimes, I also use a MAMIYA medium-format camera.

In your opinion, what’s necessary to be successful in the field of photography?   Creative projects, professionalism, objectively high-quality products, and a passion for photography.

CERN michael hoch
Michael Hoch next to CMS (Compact Mono Solenoid) at CERN – 100 meter below earth's surface. 

After earning degrees in Health & Wellness and Physics at the University of Vienna, Michael Hoch went on to studying Engineering Physics at the Technical University in Vienna. He then earned a PhD at CERN in Geneva. He was born in Vienna and is the founder of art@CMS, a project designed to promote the dialog between science, art, and the public. Contact: