Review: Particle/Wave, Melbourne International Arts Festival

Thuy On

Particle/Wave, set at the Planetarium in Scienceworks, is a love letter, a poem to what has been discovered in our universe, and more pointedly, what has yet to be discovered.
Review: Particle/Wave, Melbourne International Arts Festival

Particle/Wave playing at the Melbourne Planetarium for Melbourne International Arts Festival.

 On the surface there doesn’t seem to be anything much in common between science and poetry surely. One is quantifiable; the other inexact. The former, rather cold and formal, the latter floaty and free-wheely, right? And yet, this rather audacious collaborative work manages to suggest a harmonious marriage between the two. Remember: there is beauty in science. Remember: there are patterns in poetry. Both forms reach for the unknown and try to pin it down. And so, Particle/Wave, set at the Planetarium in Scienceworks, is a love letter, a poem to what has been discovered in our universe, and more pointedly, what has yet to be discovered. Gravitational waves ‘are ripples in spacetime. When objects move, the curvature of spacetime changes and these changes move outwards (like ripples on a pond). It’s a stretch and squash of space and so can be found by measuring the change in length between two objects.’

Confused? Particle/Wave tries to explore and elaborate such heady concepts by dividing the hour-long show into 11 short sections and combining the talents of scientists, visual and sound artists and poets. It’s very much a multimedia for eyes, ears and hearts.

It can be overwhelming for the scientifically illiterate (for those of us who have no idea exactly what a black hole or neutron star is, let alone a gravitational wave) and the jargon can be a little alienating for those not schooled up on the latest astrophysical discoveries but the beauty of Particle/Wave is that there are gorgeous, dazzling, trippy images to gaze at and poetry that may be inspired by spell-blindingly huge universal matters yet still veer off in dimensions more human-to-human and thus more relatable. Director Alicia Sometimes' team of poets include impressive names such as Krissy Kneen, Oma Musar, Lisa Gorton, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Jordie Albiston, while co-producer and musical director Andrew Watson has corralled some fine audio and visual technicians to illuminate their words. Emotional and physical isolation and embraces, collision of paths, matter, energy and weight: all these and more are explored.

With your head back against one of those plush tilted seats at the planetarium, the show feels like a dreamscape and those pulsing, undulating graphics a surreal kaleidoscope. Particle/Wave, is, as Sometimes says, a good reminder that ‘the universe is made up of stories, woven into every thread.’

4 stars  ★★★★

Presented in association with Museums Victoria and OzGrav
Melbourne International Arts Festival
6-20 October 2018
Melbourne Planetarium

* Show attendees should come early and take advantage of Scienceworks’s Beyond Perception exhibition and visit the VR station from OzGrav – the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery.

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Thuy On is a freelance literary journalist and critic and the books editor of The Big Issue.