Glenda Bartosh

freelance writer, editor, artist

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The Gloriously
Cosmic Periodic Table

ink-jet photocopies on card stock

In these times of science under fire — politicians muzzling scientists; people disbelieving scientific facts about climate change and more — this participatory art project freed up art and science from institutions like the exhibition hall and brought them into the streets.

The two black and white periodic tables are copies of the fronts and backs of 66 “originals” of a periodic table inspired by quantum physics and the junctions where science meets art meets science. Each original card was made on beautiful watercolour paper with a hand-painted image in brush/Chinese ink to represent an imaginary “element”. On the back, handwritten, is a scientific fact about the cosmos or quantum physics, the name and periodic number of the imaginary element, and a science-based website where people can go to learn more about the fact.

The first element is “Unknownium” the last is “Connectium”.

All the originals were passed out to people — for free — on the streets and byways of Metro Vancouver, starting a chain reaction of at least 66 conversations about art and science. Like the traces made visible in a cloud chamber, these reproductions are all that remains of something gloriously fleeting.

The final periodic table is composed of colour images of all the people who took the 66 originals. Each person could select the element she or he was most drawn to. Some based their choice on the image; some on the scientific fact (they didn't even look at the image); some on the poetics of the name. A few decisions were based on a combination of the above, or simply because it was a favourite number.

Passing them out, I was amazed by two things: How excited people were to receive “an original work of art”, and how much they knew about quantum physics and science. Our conversations ranged from black holes and the Hubble telescope to what kinds of oil paints don't produce fumes. Participants included a member of the Dutch embassy, a martial artist and an ambulance driver. One man was going to give his card to his sister for her birthday that day. One took it to his wife, an artist, who was in the hospital. One woman — a complete stranger — even offered to pay me (it was a lovely gesture, but I refused).