Such remarks clearly indicate that Gabo was influenced by scientific discourse. With the general theory of relativity of 1915, Albert Einstein had established that the physical universe exists not within absolute space and absolute time, conceived separately from one another, but rather within a dynamic space-time continuum, a system conforming to the principles of spatial curvature in Non-Euclidean geometry. This new conceptual model had enormous repercussions for scientific research, although the fundamental ideas were, and remain, extremely difficult to grasp. A few years elapsed before they began to filter through a wider audience, a process in which an important role was played by popular surveys such as Sir James Jeans’ The Mysterious Universe, which appeared in numerous editions following its initial publication in 1930. Jeans summarised the relevant aspect of relativity theory as follows:
…this theory tells us that space itself is curved, much in the same way which the surface of the earth is curved. The curvature of space is responsible for the curving of rays of light which is observed at a solar eclipse, and for the curvature in the paths of planets and comets, which we used to attribute to a ‘force’ of gravitation. On this theory, the presence of matter does not produce ‘force’, which is an illusion, but a curving of space… The more matter there is in the Universe, the more curved space will be, the more rapidly it will bend back on itself…
As it happens, Gabo’s collection of scientific books included a copy of The Mysterious Universe (1937 edition) as well as Sir Arthur Eddington’s The Expanding Universe, First published in 1932, which dealt with related concepts, and which Gabo seems to have owned before 1936since his copy was a French translation. Gabo was clearly aware of such scientific theorising, and it does not particularly matter weather or not he had sophisticated conceptual grasp of the principles. The important point is the striking correlation between current discussions of spatial curvature and both the formal qualities of a sculpture from the early 1930’s Stone with a Collar, and Gabo’s own retrospective account concerning the introduction of a curved rather than an angular system of space into his work. The idea that matter generates spatial curvature about itself finds a vivid parallel in the line of the black strip in the construction as it emerges from the late base , performs a taut loop in space, and then links up with the plastic collar , which in turn appears to be generated by the form of the white stone. There is no contradiction between seeing Stone with a Collar as an exercise in abstract formal invention and reading it As Gabo’s attempt to create an accessible aesthetic metaphor for a new and exciting idea in modern physics.
In Rose Marble Carving as in contemporary constructions such as Crystalline Centre, Gabo explored the relationship between an inner element and an outer surround. Although the carved form seems very simple and frontal, it actually contains a complex pattern of movements. The central diagonal element conveys a sense of potential rotation in space. This form in turn appears to generate the twisting ellipse, with its implied suggestions of both a spinning movement and of rotation around the vertical axis. Moreover the transition within the curve of the ellipse from an external bulge to an interior hollow creates an interplay between recession and projection, evoking the illusion of latent rotation in depth around the diagonal axis. The denial of mass is reinforced by mounting the form in a plastic surround, so that it appears to float weightlessly in space. As in Stone with a Collar the overall configuration suggests the centrifugal generation of curved space around a central core of matter. Yet the asymmetrical regularity is very different and seems related to Eddington’s description of the curvature of space, which he compared visually to a magnetic field and to his image of the universe as a four-dimensional bubble rotating around a plane.