Staging Physical Analogues of Entangled Black Holes

Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, ER=EPR, 2017. Installation in collaboration with William Basinski, Jean-Marc Chomaz, and LIGO.

In the winter of 2016, a collaborative engagement with LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) led us to a vertiginous, theoretical upheaval concerning the cosmological nature of non-locality. This epiphany was mercurially followed by two new art installations: Orbihedron and ER=EPR. While searching for a fluid analogue of black hole pair collision (already thrice detected by LIGO), we surfaced at a crowded lecture by esteemed cosmologist Juan Maldacena. A pair of distantly separated eternal black holes were deemed quantum entangled via a wormhole, or Einstein-Rosen Bridge. Maldacena radically converged two seemingly unrelated papers written by Einstein and colleagues in 1935—the legendary “spooky action at a distance” article, “EPR,” and the lesser known “ER” Einstein-Rosen paper—by intrinsically linking the two farthest reaches of phenomenological inquiry: the physics of quantum entanglement and that of black holes. The theory ultimately implies that the undivided “reliable structure of space-time is due to the ghostly features of entanglement [Maldacena].”

In the artwork ER=EPR, two co-rotating vortices joined together via a slender vortical bridge, hover through a long aquarium. A white laser field spreads across the volume of water from below and transforms the vortex pair into a dynamic lens, projecting two entangled black holes encircled by shimmering halos. As soon as the “wormhole” link between the black holes rips apart, the vortices immediately dissipate, analogously to the wave function collapse of an entangled particle pair.

The Orbihedron installation comprises a single vortex in the middle of a water-filled basin emitting prismatic bursts of rotating light. Akin to a radiant ergosphere surrounding a spinning black hole, the artwork evokes the relativistic as well as quantum interpretation of gravity. Descending into the eye of the vortex, a white laser beam reaches an impassible singularity that casts a whirling circular shadow on the basin’s floor. The singularity lies at the bottom of a dimple on the water’s surface, the crown of the vortex, which acts as a concave lens focusing the laser beam along the horizon of the “black hole” shadow. Light is seemingly swallowed by the black hole in accordance with general relativity, yet leaks out as quantum theory predicts.

After our collaboration, one of the researchers at LIGO who works in quantum noise reduction, Rana Adhikari, became inspired to create quantum musical compositions. It is always immensely difficult to foresee and assess the consequences of our interactions with scientific collaborators. For them, there is always a remarkable advantage of working with artists in that it counteracts the instrumentalization of science—emancipating it from any subservient trajectories and inciting undirected experimentation.


Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand

Based in Amsterdam, Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand create immersive installations and performances probing exotic natural phenomena.