Art Physics

Updated: Oct 9, 2018

By Martine Hoff Jensen.

In Marte Johnslien’s new exhibition she explores the space between dimensions and the history of matter to give us a different view of the world.

"All that I am discovering is so wonderful and so miraculous that I become more and more enraptured, and am grabbed by a certain presentiment of further revelations awaiting me. It is as though I already feel the unity of all and am overcome with awe at the sensation."

– Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe, p. 2.

In 1905 Albert Einstein presented his theory on special relativity, proving that time and space are linked, and changed the established world view. He also brought to the table the idea for the «fourth dimension». This idea of something outside of our physical reach has inspired people to search for «the other dimension» forever since. Some say it is time, others believe it can answer the mysteries of the world. The latter idea belongs to, amongst others, the Russian esotericist Pyotr Demianovitch Ouspensky (1878-1949), whom wanted to give evidence of natural science to a spiritual-mystical world view, and tried to create methods for developing the potential in human consciousness.

In her next exhibition, A Square on a Sphere, which opens at Lillehammer Kunstmuseum October 20th, Norwegian artist Marte Johnslien (1977) explores how our understanding of reality can translate to spacial structures [1]. As the name of the exhibition indicates, she looks at the glitch that occurs when you try to draw a geometrically correct square on a round ball. It is just not possible for the angles of the square to meet up. This glitch can hint at the possibility of another dimension, or represent the glitches in our world view; it is not complete. This image of the square on the ball can be used as an illustration of the problems that occur when you try to translate something from two dimensional space to a third. What Johnslien is interested in, she says, is how we also have these kind of glitches in our perception of the world. This she again relates to the fourth dimension, quantum physics and contemporary physics, as they try to address what it is not possible for us to grasp. In an interview with Torunn Liven for Kunstkritikk in 2014, Johnslien said that art experiences have always appealed to her spirituality, in the way that they enhance her affiliation to her surroundings, the world around her [2]. She calls these experiences «artistic presence».

For the exhibition she has drawn inspiration from the 1975 classic The Tao of Physics by Austrian physicist Fritjof Capra. Capra explores the parallells between modern physics such as quantum mechanics and eastern spirituality, especially Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. The link between the mysteries of the East and the physics of the behavior of matter, have in common that they all want to find the truth and what reality really is. In the chapter The New Physics Capra explains Einstein’s relativity theory in relation to gravity, using the square on a curved sphere as an example. He writes that «[t]he force of gravity […] has the effect of ‘curving’ space and time», saying that three dimensional space is curved, «and that the curvature is caused by the gravitational field of massive bodies» [3]. In the chapter Space-time we are introduced to the forth dimension. Einstein’s equations can be applied to determine the curvature of stars and planets and the structure of the whole universe. Cosmology studies looks at the correspondence between different answers to these equations and the actual structure of our universe. «Since space can never be separated from time in relativity theory, the curvature caused by gravity cannot be limited to three-dimensional space, but must extend to four-dimensional space-time and this is, indeed, what the general theory of relativity predicts» [4]. To explain it more simple; when you drive a car really fast your vision starts to lag and it feels like you can experience the time passing. Just as when something is about to hit you, but you experience it in slow motion. The coordinates we use to indicate our position on earth are longitude and latitude, but there is also up and down, plus time, which is where the fourth dimension occurs.

«How can world view be translated into something physical, into something sculptural, spacial?» Marte Johnslien asks. «How can the way we relate to the world around us, take shape as sculpture?». She is trying to find other angles to look at ourselves, objects, and materials. Or as Ouspensky says, «broadening of our conception of the world» [5]. In the artworks for the upcoming exhibition Johnslien explores a new technique of armoring ceramics. She does so by introducing iron sheets to the clay. The iron gives the ceramics a new pattern, and a new inner stability. She explores the way a two dimensional diagonal can be transformed to a three dimensional object, by cutting the diagonal in two and rolling together the two new pieces. These can again be put together to create a new form. And stacked on top of each other, with wooden plates placed between them, they create a new form and a new space. To add to the idea of energy and particles traveling the sphere, the ceramic pieces are covered in glaze, created from minerals and pigments. Johnslien wants to know all the stories behind the oxides and minerals, but to limit the amount of information, she looks at how they interact with each other and create new constellations. This again relates to another topic in her field of interest, that of the Russian avant-garde and the term faktura. Faktura means «texture» or the material properties of an object. It can be viewed as «a visual demonstration of the properties inherent in a material, and [it] is also shaped by the artistic traditions, social environment, and historical context in which the work is created», as Marte Johnslien writes in her PhD presentation [6]. In the dictionary, the term is explained as something that «characterizes the textural structure of a work of art and the manner by which it was constructed. As a creative principle, it rejects a pictorial space based on perspective and the illusion of three-dimensional space projected onto a flat canvas» [7].

The glitches that Johnslien are exploring are relatable to the studies of both Capra and Ouspensky. In his epistemological essays collected in the book A New Model of the Universe Ouspensky asks questions about the various ways humans have tried to find the fourth dimension and wether or not it is possible. He writes that the idea «…must have arise in close connection with mathematics, or, to put it better, in close connection with the idea of measuring the world» and that «…besides the three known dimensions of space – length, breadth, hight – there might also exist a fourth dimension, inaccessible to our perception» [8]. What exist in the glitches are perhaps as well inaccessible to our perception.

Ospensky writes that «…people have always divided the world into the visible and the invisible» [9]. From the simplest of times, the earliest of people have always seen the world in this two-way division. Human has always thought there existed an invisible world. Evidences can be seen in ancient cave paintings. It is fundamental for man’s thinking [10]. The people living in the caves did not have a term like Einstein’s space-time and his equations to graps what was «invisible». For them what existed was something mysterious. Here is where Capra links the mathematics and physics to the mysterious philosophies of the east. According to Ouspensky, «the fourth dimension [generally] is used as the synonym of the mysterious, miraculous, ‘supernatural’, incomprehensible and incognisable, as a kind of general definition of the phenomena of the ‘super-physical’ world» [11].

Whatever they are, ideas, mental images, dreams and memories or time, something exists in the glitches of the world that humans cannot grasp. In her method of work, Johnslien uses collected information to find inspiration for materials or techniques, and then the artwork itself becomes «the reaction to the research process» [12]. Continuing, Johnslien says that this working method «activates the use of both the intellectual and the intuitive, hence operating between the «knowing» and the «non-knowing» [13]. In between these two, there might be a glitch, a secret room we do not have physical access to. It might be the forth dimension.


[1] Lillehammer Kunstmuseum, «A Square on a Sphere.» 01.10.2018.

[2] Liven, «Det som vever oss sammen».

[3] Capra, Fysikkens Tao, 59.

[4] Ibid., 156-157.

[5] Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe, 72.

[6] Johnslien, «Sensitivity as Strategy – Knowing, Non-knowing and the Third Alternative».

[7] The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, s.v. «Faktura». 03.10.2018.

[8] Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe, 73.

[9] Ibid., 67-68.

[10] Ibid., 68.

[11] Ibid., 72.

[12] Johnslien, «Sensitivity as Strategy – Knowing, Non-knowing and the Third Alternative».

[13] Ibid.


Capra, Fritjof. Fysikkens Tao: en undersøkelse av parallellene mellom moderne fysikk og østlig mystikk. Trondheim: Regnbueforlaget, 1985.

Johnslien, Marte. "Sensitivity as Strategy – Knowing, Non-knowing and the Third Alternative,» Norwegian Artistic Research Programme. 03.10.2018.

Lillehammer Kunstmuseum, «A Square on a Sphere.» 01.10.2018.

Liven, Torunn. «Det som vever oss sammen.» Kunstkritikk. 03.10.2018.

Ouspensky, Pyotr Demianovitch. A New Model of the Universe: Principles of the Psychological Method in its Application to Problems of Science, Religion, and Art. Mineola: Cover Publications, Inc., 1997.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, s.v. «Faktura». 03.10.2018.


Portraits by Ingrid Eggen: