Of faith and science

Julio César Abad Vidal



The current photographic research by Fernando Maselli constitutes a project filled with a Faustian ambition: a visual scrutiny that, taking extraordinarily diverse and extreme models -such as uninhabited natural spots where cult practices have been located in the past, or the largest scientific instrument ever made- questions about the cohabitation and friction between faith and scientific illusion.

Between 2011 and 2013 Maselli travelled to several natural areas of the Spanish territory from its southern end, visiting the Teide (Lanzarote) or the High Garajonay (La Gomera) to its north end, with many spots on the Picos de Europa (Peak sacred Heart) and Pyrenees (Balaïtous), among others. Locations, all of them, which share a single characteristic, that of having been considered sacred by various cultic traditions. The set of photographic images he took in those places forms the series titled – using the neologism coined by researcher of religious phenomena Mircea Eliade- Hierofanías (Hierophanies). The whole of the images included in this series lacks both human presence or traces of it, and conveys an aura of mystery that aims to involve the viewer in a moral and emotional insight about nature.

Then, taking advantage of the reconditioning process of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at the CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European Organization for Nuclear Research), Maselli managed to obtain a  permit to photograph the facilities near Geneva, and he did so in May 2013. Although not the only particle accelerator, its dimensions make the Collider of Geneva the largest in the world. Featuring a titanic twenty- seven kilometer circular tunnel dug a hundred meters underground, it allows the study of hadrons’ collisions by which scientists question around the possibilities and certainties of physics as they have been enunciated until now. The goal of the LHC is nothing less than to provide physics with the appropriate instruments in order to know the accuracy of their inquiries, through knowledge about the generation of particles. Of Origin. His association with the arcane has allowed the physicist Leon Lederman to baptize the ultimate object of his analysis, the discovery of the Higgs boson or the elementary particle that would play a decisive role in the process by which mass in the universe would arise, as the “God particle”, which precisely titles his essay on the issue The God Particle (New York, Dell Publishing, 1993).

The photographer’s wish to exhibit both series together may make the viewer wonder. If Hierophanies seeks an understanding of the relationship between religion and nature, a look at the LHC facilities is directed towards an apparent caesura that pursues, however, a deeper cohabitation. The combination of these series arouses deep questions in those who -like Fernando Maselli- are interested in scientific issues, matters at the heart of his favourite readings despite not having completed higher studies in the field of the pure sciences he chose in his high school years.

Maselli’s choice for capturing landscapes where religious practices have been located in the sometimes very distant past, is characterized by a vindication of a non-dogmatic personal experience. There is thus a romantic component of communion between spirit and nature that may -most likely- lead our photographer to further developments on the aesthetic category of the sublime. At the same time, his interest in understanding the Large Hadron Collider and the series of landscapes share the vocation of both scenarios for the question of origin. The scientific considerations present in the first case and the religious ones in the second could be understood as antagonistic, as reluctant to any parallellism, like ascertained members of an impossible communion, just as it happens – as our photographer likes to point out- with two theories of physics that rule today: general relativity and quantum mechanics. But this is not so for Maselli, who referred to the LHC at the European Organisation for Nuclear Reseach as the “union of a great part of the scientific community to create a device, the largest ever made by man, to try to enquire about the origin of matter, reaching levels of complexity and abstraction close to an “act of faith”, a faith in the order of universe “.

The amazing character of the colossal Geneva scientific instrument and the goal it pursues is magnified by its coexistence with the spiritual longing, tending to the sublime, of the scenes that make up his immediately preceding landscape series. Hierophanies presents  the viewer, among others, with the question whether it is nature that causes a reverential fear man tries to ease through cult, or if its majesty and lushness, its fertility, ultimately impel man to the development of religious practices. If there is an element that wishes to be exorcised or another that, on the contrary, hopes for communion. The series on scientific facilities opened by Maselli in May 2013 at the Large Hadron Collider of CERN, faces us against the possibility that the knowledge of the Higgs boson leads to the arousal of even furhter questions. And Maselli’s photography is vocationally directed not to questioning the fidelity of photography regarding reality, but to introducing spaces in which the very existence is questioned or enquired about its very origin.