Dark Matter
28 May - 14 June 2008

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Dark Matter -  Bryan Gaensler

building piramids
1. Building pyramids for the lost 2008

cellulite soul
2. Cellulite Soul (forget LA move to Miami) 2008
3. Plasticising Glamour 2007
sales explosions
4. Sales explosions 2008
high and low
5. High & Low 2008
here comes the sound
6. Here comes the sound of colours: (Corner stone blues) 2008
mirror chromes
7. Mirrorchromes 2008
8. Mirrorchromes II 2008
9. Painting for Brazil 2008
painting  in stereo
10. Painting in Stereo (01/08) Spectral Sounds 2007
11. A kind of equivalence A 2007
kind of equavalence
12. A kind of equivalence B 2007
spectral vortex
13. Spectral Vortex (Cherri) 2007
proposal for airport
14. A painting proposal for airports and space stations A 2008
proposal for airport
15. A painting proposal for airports and space stations B 2008
spectral gold
16. Spectral [Gold_01/07] – bruised beauty 2007
17. Space doughnut (silver) 2008
space donut
18. Space doughnut (multi) 2008
gold donut
19. Space doughnut (gold) 2008
20. Fluoro / Duo / Chrome (02/08) 2008
podium duo chromes
21. Podium Duo Chromes (02/08) Growing multi-coloured flowers for the next space stations 2008
22. Starburst (lost amongst the stars) 2008
23. Stargazers and shoegazers (grand cosmo returns) 2007
24. Violet/White light strutter 2008
podium for the blind
25. Podium for the blind 2008
26. Installation
27. Installation 
28. Installation 
29. Installation 
30. Installation 
31. Installation 

Dark Matter
Bryan Gaensler, Sydney
May 2008

Giles Ryder has set a trap.

Gazing at his work, I can be convinced that the Universe seems full of light. The glorious colours of the night sky echo throughout the room. Ryder’s work emulates the glittering blues of young stars. Glowing nebulae shine in pink and purple. Yellow and red neon reveal the ancient hearts of vast galaxies.

Every night on cold mountaintops, giant mirrors collect these ghostly, ancient, photons, for astronomers to later analyse, count and classify. The colours are fingerprints. The delicate blend of shades and patterns from each star and galaxy reveal the atoms and molecules from which they are composed. We may never visit these other worlds, but our great triumph is that we know exactly what they are made of.

And yet the last laugh is with the Cosmos. Because overshadowing all our careful measurements and detailed catalogues is the knowledge that most of the material in the Universe does not emit any light at all.

Not a mere cold cloud of gas, yet to ignite the nuclear fires that make stars shine. Not a region shrouded in shadow, hidden from the celestial grandeur that we see each night on Earth. But matter that generates no light. Matter that can never emit light. Matter that could be all around us and we would never see it. Dark matter.

The latest measurements from NASA’s WMAP satellite allow us to pinpoint the depth of our ignorance. For every tonne of normal material – molecules, stars, trees, people – the Universe contains 5.04 tonnes of dark matter. We, and the atoms we are made from, are in the minority.


What is dark matter? Why is there so much of it? How was it formed? We don’t have even guesses that might try to answer these questions. We know that dark matter must exist, because, like all other material in the Universe, it generates gravity. The same fundamental force that holds us to the Earth, and that keeps the Earth in orbit around the Sun, is the only sign that dark matter is prepared to give us that it even exists. In fact, without the gravity of dark matter, galaxies could not have formed or held together. Particles of gas would never cluster closely together enough to make stars. We owe our very existence to this silent, invisible fluid that fills the Universe.

Although we cannot yet explain dark matter, we can use powerful computer simulations to visualise it. These incredible animations show us that the Universe is spanned by interlocking gossamer filaments of dark matter, millions of light years long. Normal material gathers whether the threads of dark matter join and interlock. It is at these intersections where galaxies form, and where stars are born, live and die.

And so the stars, we realise, are not scattered like random dust across the Universe. Rather, like trophies of some cosmological spider, galaxies have been carefully pinned onto the cosmic web at the positions where the dark matter filaments mesh together.

Our efforts to study the swirls and smudges continue unabated. But we now know that this glittering celestial display is only a tiny part of the story. And just as in the night sky, colour and light are what draws our initial attention to Giles Ryder’s work, but the true form and structure is in the reflections and invisible threads. Ryder’s pieces are not just held in place on their podiums and platforms by their own weight, but are bound together by hidden filaments into a complicated, much grander whole.


Professor Bryan Gaensler is an astronomer and Federation Fellow at The University of Sydney.