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The collaboration with the artist Jol Thomson

It was an unlikely encounter at minus 20 degrees. Felix Hennigsen and Kilian Holzapfel, at that time Bachelor students with Elisa Resconi, coincidentally met Jol Thomson at Lake Baikal in early 2017. Here, at the southern end of the lake, the Baikal-Gigaton Volume Detector (GVD) for the observation of high-energy neutrinos is about to emerge. In winter, when the lake is frozen, detector equipment can be assembled and deployed to the experiment at depth of up to 1,200 meter. Canadian-born artist, sound designer and researcher Jol Thomson came here to take footage of this remote and icy place, that is by its special nature suited for a neutrino detector.

Felix Hennigsen and Kilian Holzapfel wanted to implement a Precision Optical Module (POCAM) to be tested within the existing GVD detector. The POCAM was designed by Resconi’s students to be used as a calibration device for future neutrino detectors. But the opportunity to install the POCAM came faster than expected - and neither Felix nor Kilian had their camera at hand. And so Jol Thomson came to the rescue and recorded the installation of the POCAM in Lake Baikal, that is now documented in the video “POCAM: Siberia [2019]". 

POCAM Siberia [2019]: A audio-video composition by Jol Thomson celebrating the deployment of the
"Precision Optical Calibration Module" into the Lake Baikal neutrino telescope by students of the SFB1258.
Courtesy of the artist

At a subsequent invitation to Munich in summer 2017, the SFB1258 learned that Jol Thomson is, in the context of his artistic and research work, deeply interested in neutrino physics and their detectors. He had analyzed publications emerging from the IceCube Observatory, interviewed the IceCube principal investigator Francis Halzen, and visited the laboratory of Christian Spiering at DESY Zeuthen (Christian Spiering is the former director of the Baikal Neutrino Observatory and a former IceCube spokesperson) while researching an article in critical technical and ecological studies, later published in the Anthropocene Review Journal (2017).

In 2016 Jol Thomson received the MERU Art*Science Award and with it spent one week at the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso in Italy filming the Cryogenic Underground Observatory of Rare Events (CUORE) experiment, a detector in search for the neutrinoless double beta decay. Documenting the plant and animal life of the Gran Sasso mountain as well as the human interventions that turned this place to the world's biggest underground laboratory, Jol Thomson had produced the audio-visual composition G24|0vßßG24 was one of Enrico Fermi's early codenames while working on the world's first nuclear reactor Chicago Pile 1, and the video itself has an elaborate system of codes referring to histories and philosophies of art and science.

Still images from G24|0vßß, Jol Thomson, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and MERU Art*Science Award

G24|0vßß was selected for the Haus der Kunst group exhibition, "Blind Faith: Between the Visceral and Cognitive in Contemporary Art" and was on view in Munich between 2 March until 19 August 2018. A detector element from CUORE as well as a piece of roman lead that both are central to the video were organized by Prof. Stefan Schönert to be brought from Gran Sasso underground laboratory to Munich and were on display in the exhibition, too.

In a Walk & Talk event at Haus der Kunst, Jol Thomson and Stefan Schönert joined in a presentation. While Stefan Schönert explained how matter can be created without antimatter - a physics conundrum to be probed by neutrinoless double beta decay experiments - is of such interest in modern physics, Jol Thomson gave an introduction to the manifold references that are concentrated in his video and, in a tour through the exhibition, showed some of his other favorite exhibition pieces.

The unlikely encounter at Lake Baikal meanwhile has resulted in an amazing collaboration and friendship between scientists of the SFB1258 and the artist and researcher Jol Thomson. Among others, Jol acts as artistic inspirer, adviser and supervisor of the transdisciplinary project #eco-techno-cosmo-logic made up of physics students from the SFB1258 and art students from the Academy of Fine Arts Munich. Other projects are also in preparation.

Impressions of the presentation of the "Transobjects" within the #eco-techno-cosmo-logic project in the Reaktorhalle on 9 February 2019 (photos: Andreas Heddergott (1, top left), Constanza Meléndez (3))