Events February 5-7: Tachyons, Middle Eastern Landscape and Ai Weiwei

Hear about the one thing in the world that may be faster than light, consider Western media’s depictions of the Middle East and discuss Ai Weiwei’s art

Syrian landscape
Syrian landscape. In “Up Close from Afar: Photographic Records of the Middle East,” two curators discuss how Western media’s depictions of the Middle East affect our perception of the region’s culture. Photo by delayed gratification, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, February 5: Faster-than-Light Particles

Line anything up against a beam of light in a race and the beam’s always going to win. Light is the fastest thing there is, and much of our modern understanding of the universe is based on this barrier. But what if in fact there is some undetectable thing that is speedier? A tachyon is a hypothetical particle that always moves faster than light. Proposed in the 1960s, the possible existence of this elusive particle has enormous implications for science and the way we view the fabric of our reality. George Mason University professor of physics and astronomy Robert Ehrlich discusses the evidence for the tachyon this evening, and why it would turn our world upside down if discovered. $25 general admission, $18 member, $16 senior member. 6:45 p.m. Ripley Center.

Wednesday, February 6: Up Close from Afar: Photographic Records of the Middle East

What images come to mind when we think of the Middle East? According to artist Jananne Al-Ani, Americans tend to associate the region with barren land, which suggests low populations and little history or culture. Al-Ani’s exhibit in the Sackler Gallery, “Shadow Sites,” explores how Western media’s depictions of the Middle East’s landscapes have enforced the 19th-century stereotype of the Arab in the desert. In a talk this evening, curators Mitra Abbaspour and Carol Huh use Al-Ani’s work to probe this issue of media and archival documents’ effects on our current perceptions of this often-misunderstood region. Free. 7 p.m. Freer Gallery.

Thursday, February 7: Curator Tour of Ai Weiwei’s Work

Ai Weiwei is a controversial figure in the contemporary art world. Known for his political activism, the Chinese sculptor, photographer and instillation artist often uses his work to criticize political corruption, especially in his home country. In 2011, he was arrested and held for two months without official charges, which prompted protests for his release around the world. Understanding the social and political implications of his works can be difficult, so curators Mika Yoshitake and Carol Huh team up this evening for a tour of his two exhibits at Smithsonian, “According to What?” and “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads.” They will contextualize the exhibits and interpret his works from multiple perspectives. Free. 7 p.m. Hirshhorn Museum.

Also check out our specially created Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is also packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.

For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.

Get the latest on what's happening At the Smithsonian in your inbox.