Ian Andrews: Tiny Collision Event Experiments

My current work is centred on drawing, building equivalents between the visual forces inherent in the language of drawing and particle interactions explored by the physicist. Both are elemental building blocks  of our diverse specialisms that reveal a history of shared ideas on the nature of reality since the early 20th century. 

A residency at the University of Birmingham working with Prof Nikolopoulos from the particle physics group in 2018 changed my life as an artist as I made transformational changes to my practice. A series of exhibitions resulted, The Sketchbook and the Collider at the University’s Rotunda Gallery and Particle Event at Mac Birmingham with dancer/ choreographer Mairi Pardalaki. Collision Event an ACE funded solo exhibition at the library of Birmingham in 2019 included a programme of events and educational workshops on the theme of trans-disciplinary collaboration. Shortly before the pandemic I completed  another residency at Stryx Gallery in 2020 testing new work. 

My work, in contemporary art practice terminology is “expanded drawing” where the usual definition is broadened to include three-dimensional objects, moving image, performative actions and installations in my case retaining the essence of the hand-drawn mark. 

Previous work, following my mother’s diagnosis for dementia, explored how neuronal connections are created in the brain and develop into larger networks enabling complex processes to take place. These connections can slip and fracture however and her greeting, “You remind me of my son” was a heart rendering illustration of this cognitive slippage. 

Research followed into the relationship between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind. I’d realised that I use unconscious scanning techniques for deciding on the best way forward from the multitude of artistic possibilities. I started to relate this to my interest in particle physics and speculated  whether the relationship between classical physics and quantum mechanics corresponded to the  relationship between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind. 

Overall the idea of “networks” and the interrelationship of elements underpin my thinking. Whether neuronal networks in the brain, the relationship between conscious and unconscious parts of the mind, the interactions of elemental particles or the spin networks of loop quantum gravity. 

An exhibition in Small House Gallery is so appropriate to the tiniest things known to science, the elemental particles that create our reality and an opportunity for me to dream of larger installations in the future.

Ian Andrews with a work in his The Sketchbook and the Collider series, 2020. Photo by Richard Gregory of Studio-KIND.

Small Art, Tiny Science!

A stack of assemblages by floors in SH2:

  1. Roof Terrace: Sketchbook Pages. Dolls-house furniture, drawing on tracing paper, wire, spray paint on paper. 2021. 
  2. Attic Room: Drawing Office. Dolls-house furniture, plastic templates, wire, card and pens on Arches paper. 2021.
  3. First Floor: Not Objects but Events. Dolls-house furniture, wire, paint on canvas, pens on Arches paper. 2021. 
  4. Ground: Look Particles, Don’t look Waves. Dolls-house furniture, wire, earth globe, canvas, pen on Arches paper. 2021. 
  5. Lower Ground: Technicality. Dolls-house furniture, acetate, wire, earth globe, spray paint on paper. 2021.

This exhibition in Small House Gallery is a tiny expansion of Ian Andrews‘ larger, ongoing project: The Sketchbook and the Collider, which began in 2018 from an artist-scientist collaboration with Professor Kostas Nikolopoulos of the particle physics group at University of Birmingham. An Arts Council funded exhibition, Collision Event, at the Library of Birmingham followed in 2019. 2020 saw the pair making an application for a CERN residency. These maquettes were originally being made for that proposal. It wasn’t long before these smaller works started to exert their own influence on the artist and develop an unexpected significance. He would continue to work on them in the quieter spaces between larger scale projects and his teaching work, long past the application’s deadline.

We were instantly intrigued and charmed by the nature of Ian’s ‘expanded drawing’ practice when he contacted us back in October/November 2020. He said, “It just seems appropriate to be doing a quantum mechanics/ particle physics exhibition in a tiny space!” We found the prospect of presenting his CERN proposal maquettes very exciting. A period of unfettered experimentation on Ian’s part ensued, culminating in the five floors’ worth of work you see here. We had the privilege of witnessing every fascinating step in the process. In the end, there were more assemblages and configurations than we could fit, but by then we had expanded from the three-floored Small House Gallery One, and were able to offer our newly acquired four-floored Small House Two. Ian whittled the choices down to five full floor installations, and rather than choose to let go of one, we improvised a fifth floor for SH2. Introducing: the Roof Terrace of Small House Two!

Creating these art installations for Small House Gallery got Ian “thinking again of older work and its relationship to [his] newer work. Connecting themes [became] apparent bridging what [he had previously] thought was a relatively severe break/change of direction [in his art practice].” It’s been a pleasure being allowed a glimpse into his process. We look forward to seeing how the project or subsequent projects develop on from this micro residency. In a way, that’s exactly what it’s been – a very relaxed and informal, yet intensely prolific, five month virtual incubation residency. In fact, it continues after the publishing of this page, because there are tweaks to the compositions that Ian will be making remotely to his installations as the show in the next month or so progresses. Some tiny, some maybe bigger – we don’t know – you’ll know when we do!

On the main website for The Sketchbook and the Collider project, Ian writes: “The work takes as its starting point the search for equivalents between the primary artistic language of drawing and the elementary particles and their interactions” and a main component of the project is his investigation into the “intimate connection between pure visual language and elemental particle characteristics and interactions.” (Look at >>>>this<<<<< to understand what he’s on about, and see what that looks like in concrete terms on a larger scale)

Subtle changes began to happen at the quantum level of this show… particles are never static. Can you spot the changes? They will occur throughout the month-long show taking place in March, one of the most unpredictably changeable months on the calendar. It took a while for the first shift to happen, but they’re going to get more rapid as the month progresses. Check back to see the show morph over time.


MAIN PROJECT WEBSITE: http://thesketchbookandthecollider.com/ 


Here is a completely unauthorised curatorial experiment, taking Andrews’ TINY COLLISION EVENTs out of context a month after his Small House Two exhibition ended; while Ian’s been busy working on a very large scale project he hasn’t needed these miniature works back straight away, so we’ve placed them around Small House Cottage to see what would happen. Could the work stand up to the bold, oversized wallpaper this vintage handmade dolls house was fitted with when we acquired it? Could we use this installation of his marvellous gravity defying sculptures as proof of concept that this spicy, non-vanilla, domestic non-white-cube space could be used as an alternative miniature art exhibition venue? We’re still trying to work out the lighting issues: there’s too much daylight flare and glare to take clear photos, and because the house is double sided it’s hard to know where to hide the electrics if we want to install lighting (getting into the hollow roof space without damaging the integrity of the entire structure is proving a challenge). So these photos aren’t magazine-tearsheet-portfolio ready! But we are nonetheless really pleased by the results of this TINY COLLISION EVENT EXPERIMENT.


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