Cosmological questions

An intriguing interdisciplinary project.

Rising more than four metres high, a mix of steel, 1700 LEDs and 14 speakers, Cosmoscope is an impressive sculpture. The culmination of a two-year interdisciplinary research project funded by a Wellcome Trust Large Arts Award, the creative team includes Professors of Cosmology and Chemistry, an imaging physicist, a programmer, a composer… and a counselling psychologist.

Monia Brizzi is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society in private practice in London. She told us: ‘I have always been fascinated by the liminal position that psychology occupies between hard and soft science as well as between science and art, and by the rich possibilities for interdisciplinary cross-fertilisation. Amplification and knowledge advancement are enabled by psychology’s distinct “combinatorial capacity”, as William James put it. Cosmoscope calls us to amplify our perspective and vantage points on the world in a way that challenges the Western tradition of subjectivity and moral allegiance to selfhood, and prioritises our basic interdependence and the plasticity of our world relations.’

The sculpture seeks to reflect cosmological or existential questions that Brizzi feels are fundamental to her efficacy in her practice as a psychologist: ‘How can we create structures able to contain, sustain and guide us in our everyday life without entrapping and stultifying us? How do we exist as unique yet fundamentally interconnected parts of the enormously complex, often unsettling and bewildering, mysterious universe we inhabit? Over the years my clinical practice has increasingly shown me that the lack of embodied relation to the world and participation in cosmic life leads people to conditions of existential dissociation, dislocation, nihilism, anaesthesia, anhedonia, despair. This has led me to believe that the issue of how to best facilitate and engage people in cosmological questions should be a primary concern for psychologists.’

Cosmoscope was shown at Lumiere Durham 2017 and Lumiere London 2018, and was the basis of a Durham University public engagement and science outreach project that invited thousands of primary school children to build their own physical, psychological and social universes.

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