I never really possessed an aptitude for science at school. I was interested in aspects of it (mainly in blowing things up and setting fire to anything I could lay my hands on) but as I’ve got older, I’ve developed a bit of a passion for it. So much so, I’m now becoming a little obsessed with astronomy as of late, and want to continue to hone my new-found love of science as much as I possibly can. So when I found out that Manchester Science Festival would this year be focusing their main event upon black holes, I couldn’t contain my glee.
Manchester Science Festival was curated by MOSI back in 2007, offering a smorgasbord of art, performances and experiences to audiences of all ages. Since then, the festival has become one of the most eagerly anticipated cultural events in the city, this year running as a diverse 11-day celebration of all things science.
Distortions in Spacetime is easily most ambitious exhibition of the festival to date, and also the most innovative. This event not only explores how black holes form, but considers what it would actually feel like to experience this phenomenon. Thus, the top floor of the 1830 Warehouse has been transformed into interactive sensory experience, courtesy of audio-visual pioneers Marshmallow Laser Feast.
Upon arrival, I was led into a darkroom to watch a short film about the formation of black holes, which provides some helpful context to the experience itself. While I’m certainly not the most qualified person to explain the dynamics of astrophysics, the basic premise of a black hole is fairly simple to understand. A black hole ultimately functions as a tear in space, and exhibits such an enormous amount of gravity that no form of matter or radiation can escape. The theory of general relativity suggests that a sufficiently compact mass, such as a collapsing star, leads to the creation of a black hole, but it has also been postulated that micro black holes can be born through high energy collisions of subatomic particles (this is the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider, for those of you interested).
After our introductory presentation, we then entered what can only be described as a Perspex box, which instantly messes with your perception. Once you get used to the virtual reality of the exhibition space, your senses begin to adjust accordingly, and you can then begin to take in your surroundings more coherently. (Event organisers advise you not to go in under the influence of alcohol or drugs- you’ve been warned.)
I was lucky enough to experience Distortions in Spacetime on a private tour, so had plenty of opportunities to move around the room in a fury of particle jets. There’s a huge interactive video wall complete with 360-degree mirrored infinity setup, which allows you to lose yourself in the sensation of drifting through space. I was squashed, stretched, and spaghettified repeatedly, and I couldn’t have been more delighted.
As you travel further into the event horizon of the black hole, you begin to lose the ability to interact with the space around you- the gravity is too strong. From this point onwards the experience is entirely visual, and its jaw-dropping stuff.
For sheer aesthetic prowess alone, Distortions in Spacetime is an absolute wonder to behold. An amazing feat of technology and interactive graphics, it’s a remarkable experience that really does push the boundaries of contemporary art. It’s also events like this that demonstrate that both science and art are spheres that are not necessarily esoteric, but fields that can be accessed by all, regardless of age, status or expertise. It’s therefore entirely commendable that organisations such as MOSI not only continue to bring science to the masses, but also deliver events and exhibitions in such enigmatic style.
As such, Distortions in Spacetime manages to reach the upper echelons of our free culture spots series, as it really is the most awe-inspiring exhibition I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Quite simply, it is an unequivocal joy.
To find out more about events and exhibitions at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, visit https://www.scienceandindustrymuseum.org.uk/