We were commissioned by the Skirball Cultural Center to create an installation for the travelling Albert Einstein exhibition, which was scheduled to run in Los Angeles from Sept 14, 2004 through May 29, 2005, where it was seen by over 300,000 museum visitors. We were asked to fill the exhibit’s three-year gap (1931-1933) when Einstein was in residence at Caltech, deciding whether he would stay in California or move on to Princeton. As creative director and writer/producer, Kristy Kang and I went to see the show at the Boston Museum of Science in order to decide what we could add. We agreed that we shouldn’t stress science since that was the primary focus of the larger exhibition, yet we would include interviews with Caltech astrophysicist Kip Thorne and Princeton’s physicist Edward Witten.
Seeing this project as another work within our signature genre of the interactive memoir, I was determined to emphasize the six communities with which Einstein was closely engaged during those missing three-years: the scientists he was joining at Caltech; the European émigrés who were flocking to Southern California and changing its culture; the Jews fleeing Hitler who were seeking asylum; the Hollywood moguls and stars who were impressed with his fame; the FBI which was monitoring his subversive activities; and his own household (family and assistants), who protected and oppressed him. Instead of presenting a unified vision of Einstein, we would emphasize the contradictions that persisted throughout his life, especially in his relations with these six communities. How could the world’s greatest scientist spend the last three decades of his life searching for a unified field theory, a search even he considered futile? How could this famous theoretical genius identify so strongly with Charlie Chaplin? How could this champion of democracy generate a 1,500 page FBI file? How could an ardent pacifist come to be called “the grandfather” of the atomic bomb? How could this secular scientist be offered the Presidency of Israel? And how could this great humanitarian treat members of his own family so coldly? To explore these paradoxes, we immersed ourselves in researching the massive material available on Einstein—not only Kristy and I but also our German interface designer Andreas Kratky and Korean sound designer Juri Hwang, who strengthened the international dimensions of the project
The DVD-ROM version was released with a slim volume that contains my essay, “Einstein in the Labyrinth” and excerpts from most of the interviews, including one with historian Robert Schulman, co-editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. He wept when he told us “one of the ugly things” Einstein had said about his younger son: “Perhaps we should have done with Eduard what the old Spartans did with the weak children, expose them on the mountains outside of Sparta.” In this DVD-ROM version, we presented Einstein as a complex living presence whose enormous impact generated a strong gravitational pull that dramatically reshaped the space-time fabric of our world.