A humble connector of art and science
Sometimes a bolt is just a bolt. Sometimes it is more. On the morning of 13 November 2019, fresh from celebrating the completion of civil works on the Tokamak Building, ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot could be seen donning a safety harness and ascending in a cherry picker to a selected spot in the emerging roof structure of the crane hall. In his hand was a black bolt, indistinguishable from any other except for the inscription: ART.
Working by hand, he inserted the small cylindrical object—in engineering terms an M30 hexbolt precisely fabricated from A-490 Type 3 alloy steel with a black iron-oxide finish—into two perfectly aligned holes, threading on the hex-nut to join a set of white steel beams. As an engineer added the precise torque and the bolt settled permanently into its place, it became Sans Titre, a work of art anonymously embedded in a work of science.
''Sans Titre,'' created for ITER in 2019 by sculptor Christine Corday, waits with other M30 bolts for use in the Tokamak Building roof structure.
Tens of thousands of M30 bolts connect the muscular steel elements of the Tokamak Building roof structure. As a functional unit, the massive roof framework must support the twin tracks of the overhead crane—which in turn must carry components weighing as much as 1,300 tonnes, manoeuvring each one gently into its place in the ITER Tokamak. Sans Titre is one bolt among many. What makes it special?
The answer is in the intention. Sans Titre is the work of New York sculptor Christine Corday. Corday is no stranger to massive steel structures and high temperatures. She has frequently used plasma as an art medium, a variety of metals serving as her "palette" in the creation of a sculpture, and she was the first artist invited to use NASA's Remotely Coupled Transferred Arc (RCTA) Plasma System at temperatures exceeding 22,000 °C. When Corday learned about ITER, she saw poetry in the human narrative, the decades of research coming to fruition. As Corday said in a recent Forbes article, "There's thousands of engineers, thousands of scientists, thousands of builders. It's truly extraordinary to think that we are the witnessing generation of a star being built on Earth." Within that human endeavour, Sans Titre is Corday's statement of Art's support for ITER as "science's greatest terrestrial achievement of the celestial." It is Art, not as decoration, but as a contributing and sustained presence.
Made from the same materials, to the same specifications, ''Sans Titre'' is indistinguishable from any other M30 hexbolt in the crane hall structure except for the inscription ''ART.'' On 13 November 2019, Director-General Bernard Bigot threaded the bolt into place—a work of art anonymously embedded in a work of science.
Why choose a bolt? The anonymity of Sans Titre, inserted as one M30 bolt among many and disappearing into the structure of the Tokamak Complex, is exactly the point: in the human narrative, Art and Science inextricably merge. Corday likens it to a specific place in Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Sharp Minor, in which the opening fortissimo bars are followed in pianisissimo, very softly, by three chords played—according to the composer's instruction—with the fingers of the pianist's left hand inserted into those of the right, the thumbs touching and interlocking. When the two thumbs touch, Corday says, a unique moment is achieved; this is much like Sans Titre functioning side by side with the other M30 bolts, "a sustained material moment within the infrastructure of this promethean site."
New York sculptor Christine Corday.
Director-General Bigot sees a similar significance: "I am really pleased that Christine Corday selected a bolt as the component that she would contribute to ITER. Bolts are the links that connect the pieces of the machine and structure, in the same way that artists and scientists serve as links to bring our society together and advance our culture." As Bigot sees it: "Art and science are two human activities that have a lot of similarity to each other. You invent a new world. You explore beyond the known frontiers. You call upon emotion and rationality. The results are supposed to be universally shared to create links between people. It is a critical part of our culture and identity. Many scientists have strong arts interests; and many artists are deeply interested in science, humbly seeking introductions to gain understanding."
As humans, we dream. The particles from which we are fabricated are the stuff of stars, configured over countless millennia into a peculiar species that seeks to imagine and shape its own future: in art, in science, and in their blended narrative. In the quest to recreate and harness fusion, the force that enables and sustains our existence, there is a certain poetry. Corday's work is a fresh expression of that "material conversation."
Learn more about the work of Christine Corday here.
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