The Point of the Veil is to Promise that Something is Behind it

On the reverse side of the Nobel Medal for Physics, awarded to a man every year bar three since 1901, appears an unusual image: ‘Science unveiling Nature’. One female figure (the Genius Science) lifts a veil to reveal the nude torso of a second female figure (Nature). The inscription stretching around the edge reads, Inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes or ‘it is good to improve (human) life through arts’.

This photo essay explores gendered representations of nature and pervasive problems with sexism in scientific research culture, particularly physics. The work’s title comes from a line in a Donna Haraway essay commenting on the long tradition of sexist gender associations in the visual & rhetorical language of science. The photographs were all made on-site during ex- tended fieldwork visits to centres of particle physics research—CERN in Switzerland, Fermilab National Laboratory in the USA and Kamioka Observatory in Japan. Certain images are documentary, while others are staged. For example, to construct one image, I created an oversized copy of the reverse of the Nobel Medal and inserted it into the experimental cavern of the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector, 100m below ground.

This photo essay is one of a larger body of related works on similar themes. Other pieces critique contemporary uses of sexist imagery by physicists, and investigate and bring to light histories of sites such as CERN & Fermilab that challenge the assumption that physics remains a ‘culture of no culture’, as Sharon Traweek so memorably described.

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