Expedition Spinvis: searching for inspiration at CERN

Going on an excursion to CERN with an artist to explore beauty in science, that seems like an excellent idea to the participants of Expedition Spinvis. They applied for participation in this six-week project that will eventually lead to a film, which will be shown in film theatre Natlab. The twenty-five lucky participants met for the first time last Friday before flying off to the particle accelerator near Geneva.

photo Pantelis Katsis

Halfway through the first meeting in Corona, the participants have placed twenty-five objects that symbolize beauty to them on the table. The idea is to leave the objects behind at CERN. There is a fineliner to quickly write down incoming ideas, an origami swan that turned out perfectly at the first try after following an instruction on Google, a plectrum that’s supposed to show that music with string instruments features in every culture. The participants come from ten different countries. They are bachelor’s and master’s students, PhD candidates, and a young alumnus

A student from Mongolia (who suggests people call him Leo because his real name is too difficult to pronounce for Westerners, which Spinvis tries to do nevertheless and fails at as expected, according to Leo) places a photograph of his brother on the table. “Because he stimulated me to come here to study.” Dutchman Fabian Lucas Luijckx wants to bring a Philips lightbulb “made by engineers from Eindhoven” with him. Someone else places a teabag on the table, as a reminder of a special day.


Caro’s object coincides with the subject of her video that was part of the application procedure. Spinvis showed a few of these videos Friday evening. Caro filmed herself putting on makeup while simultaneously expressing her thoughts about the use of makeup. “There are always two sides, what is beauty? In science, too, we prefer to see what is beautiful, the utopia. But shouldn’t we also look at the dystopia?”

Electrical Engineering student Fabian is pleased that he was selected to take part in the expedition. “What aroused my interest at first was the trip to CERN: the famous particle accelerator you don’t get to visit normally. When I later saw Spinvis’ video and read the text accompanying it, I though it was a vague project. There was nothing clear and concrete in the text, and the phrase ‘beauty in science’ doesn’t clarify much either. Although exploring something as vague as that seemed a bit boring to me, it also seemed quite interesting: where would it lead to? That curiosity made me decide to apply.”


Vague is not the right word, says TU/e policy officer Joep Huiskamp. “It’s still a bit blank.” The project fits well with TU/e’s Strategy 2030, which gives high priority to Challenge Based Learning, hence the support from TU/e innovation Space, the Executive Board, the TU/e Honors Academy, 'Eindhoven Studentenstad' and the like. “The students themselves will gain insights into a subject outside of their curriculum that can be of interest to them. It’s about making your own contribution and thinking outside the box,” Huiskamp says.

Third-year Psychology & Technology student Myrthe Kater is drawn to this project precisely because of that openness. “In my study, much of what is expected from me is clear in advance. I like to simply discover things as I go along. I used to do a lot of acting during high school, and now I miss that open and creative process. I dance as well, and I believe that body language can convey certain emotions. You can also express unpleasant and ugly feelings with your body instead of with words. I want to explore that, if there is room for it. I expect there will be.”

Continuing the expedition

After returning from their excursion to Switzerland, the participants will take part in six workshops in Matrix and in two public events. The group will delve into topics such as sound, feeling and lies.

Spinvis: “We investigate the lie. Can something be beautiful and not true? And how about sound? What do you find beautiful, and what do you find very ugly? I myself, for instance, can’t stand a sound that’s false, such as a singer who wants to fake sadness. The sound of bubble wrap popping is very beautiful to me.”

During the fourth workshop, Spinvis wants to use a 3D printer to investigate beauty in a tactile manner. “We will print one model together, each of us will print a different layer, and we will present the result to blindfolded people. What feeling do you experience with something that we collectively find beautiful?” There may possibly be a place for that object at the Dutch Design Week in October.

Spinvis himself will also bring an object of beauty: a red box containing his father’s ashes. “Walter de Jong, he was a physics, math, and chemistry teacher. Leaving that box behind in CERN is a tribute to him. I don’t know if that’s possible, or allowed. That, too, is a search.”

‘Artist in residence’ Spinvis will appear in a talk show, organized in collaboration with Studium Generale, on October 9. The end result, a film about beauty in science, will be shown in film theatre Natlab on November 6.

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