Manufacture 2

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For the past three years the particle detector OPERA has timed neutrinos fired from CERN, Switzerland toward its lead sheets at Gran Sasso, Italy. And for the last three years the neutrinos have arrived early. Breathlessly and tachycardially early. Impossibly early. The neutrinos appear to have travelled faster than light particles would travel if light particles could travel through the 730 kilometres of quartzite and affogato mud. And this October the OPERA team published their results paper. Their data show that the neutrinos arrived at the Gran Sasso detector 2.34 milliseconds after leaving CERN. But the team’s relativity model predicts that light leaving CERN would arrive at Gran Sasso at the later time of 2.4 milliseconds. That’s a 60 nanosecond delay between the neutrinos and the predicted light. So the light would arrive a full nanominute late. On these scales that’s outrageously late. That’s Godot in traffic late. And that doesn’t fit the model. But the Italians have checked and repeated the experiment. For three years. 15,000 times. And still the outcome has remained the same: neutrinos can move faster than light, if they travel through enough continental soil.

The John Hansard Gallery in Southampton is hosting its first exhibition of this university year this month. It’s called Manufacture 2. It’s the sequel to the popular French show Manufacture, and it’s curated by one of the original show’s co-curators, Zoe Gray. The leaflet doesn’t say whether the art or the artists have been changed between this exhibition and the original show, but the theme does remain the same. The leaflet provides a little exposition in its précis. Europeans don’t care how their goods are made anymore. How their cafetieres are plugged; how their Vespas are jerry-tuned. And the English are starting to show the same indifference toward their consumer heritage. And this has irked the Manufacture team, so they’ve brought the show to the UK.

It’s a four room exhibition. The entrance room is the largest room, and the largest artwork it contains is the Swede Ida Ekbald’s And So The Bells Be Weeping Dear Trolley’s Death Knell. It’s a river of black unparticular fabric, lying on the floor, supported at one end by an iron stalk. The fabric has been stained by the wheels of a shopping trolley that had been pushed through bleach before being pushed by the artist over the fabric. The effect is so-so. Sparkler-spins on the tacky floor. It would require too much commitment from a living-room, and it would rot in a garden, so it slouches in that bracket of unbuyable sculpture that looks perky in a gallery, but knows it isn’t getting adopted any day soon. In the elbows of the fabric are works also by Ekblad, variously titled, squares of fast-set concrete into which the artist has dropped manufactured objects, that each cast toward the theme.

Emmanuelle Laine’s Effet Cocktail has a concept. It’s one of those meta-media concepts. The photographer André Morin has photographed Laine’s artwork, and these photographs of the artwork are the artwork. The result is sculpture without the z-axis. This idea isn’t as Duchampian as the leaflet makes it out to be, but the photographs are effective in their own static, cataloguey way. Of the rest, Happy or Sad, by Charles Mason, is the most engaging. A dusty concrete loop and a translucent Perspex sheet that pose by themselves in a white-walled room. Abstract sculpture can go quite gonzo and Ikea-ish, but Mason’s works are confident, contrasted and original-looking. Michael Beutler’s La Cacahuete is the most inaccessible piece. An armoury of fluted paper and card set into wooden frames among foothills of scrap. Huge, under-finished, gutty and intimidating.

The truth of Manufacture 2 is that it survives mostly on its own leaflet’s mini-essays and explications. Since there are no wall-cards, the show would die a very modern, solipsistic death without these explanations. The notes come over as qualifying, necessary soapboxes for the absent artists. Which makes for an aching-arm lunch-hour. You’ll exit as you entered – insouciant toward European factory modus and build-line economics – but you’ll have been taught and teased, lectured and leaned on, schooled and slammed the full way by the all-knowing leaflet. It’s an apple-tree moment at the front desk.

The paper that the OPERA team published still hasn’t been refereed. It will nearly definitely turn out to contain an experimental error. Neutrinos, almost massless, chargeless and spinless, are notoriously difficult to test on. The evidence will fall. The crucial scientific scepticism will abide. But there is still a chance of a breakthrough, a glister of a revolution. Of new, greater science. Here’s hoping.

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Southampton University. Third year. BA Physics.

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