Magnetic spaces: Attracting science to art

Based on the exhibition ‘Takis’ at Tate Modern, London (3 July- 27 October)

Geographical understandings of space can reveal the connections and energies that exist between elements. The Greek artist Takis (1925-2019), in this latest exhibition at Tate has explored electro-magnetism through sculpture to create a space that connects science to art. On entering the exhibition, all are immediately struck by the large-scale metallic sculptures filling the rooms with pulsing electricity, generating a feeling of constant movement. 

Takis in his work explored hidden communication in materials throughout the 1960s and 1970s, by incorporating radar, antennae, aerials, dials and gauges into his sculpture. Nails in this exhibition are mysteriously suspended in mid-air, held only by a thread overriding the very idea of gravity. The real source of force, a magnet, is hidden behind a canvas. 

Takis makes visible the hidden forces that exist in a particular space, and the powers that interact there. In previous work, he revealed that technological power was in the hands of the elite, who were using it for ill purposes during the Cold War. In a staged performance in 1960 at Galerie Iris Clert, Paris, Takis suspended the poet Sinclair Beiles in mid-air through a system of magnets while reciting ‘Magnetic Manifesto’, a poetic critique of warfare. Technology among geographers too has often been critiqued, such as Beck’s warning against the dangers of modernisation that would bring destruction and concentration of power. 

Exposing political entanglements with science and challenging disciplinary divides, Takis instead uses magnetism to create an attractive, ‘spiritual’ collaboration between artists and scientists. Making an effort to democratise art, he worked with engineers in London to mass-produce affordable editions of his sculptures for the public to enjoy. In addition, through inspiring the formation of the Art Workers’ Coalition, his activism led to campaigns to reform exhibitions to be more inclusive to female artists and artists of colour. His art therefore still resonates strongly with geographical debates over who controls our technology: Is it the tech giants, Google and Amazon? Is it national governments? Is it the people through social media? 

In ideas surrounding geographies of hope, creativity is an important way to re-imagine how spaces may be better. In our current climate emergency, it is essential that we begin to reconnect to our ‘natural’ environments. Takis deliberately made sounds through electromagnets, where he says it was his intention to ‘make nature’s phenomena emerge’ from his work. One way to do this is through sound. This can be seen in a Gong that is regularly activated producing ‘space sounds’ of how the stars and planets interact with each other. These awe-inspiring displays resonate deeply, inspiring an emotive desire to understand more about the natural forces that exist. Here, Takis also revealed the power of technology for good, by developing work that harnessed renewable energy alongside scientists and engineers. 

In this way, Takis, like critical geographies, removed the disciplinary boundary between art and science by attracting them together. The underlying forces and power that exist in space become visible, and with this comes the responsibility to be activist.

By Matilda O’Callaghan

DISCLAIMER: THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR ONLY AND DO NOT REPRESENT THE VIEWS OR OPINIONS OF COMPASS MAGAZINE AS A WHOLE OR THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY.

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