Rolling Pendulum Photography

Concave transparent acrylic body with spherical curvature. A rolling ball oscillates
inside the concavity about its rest position like a mathematical pendulum does.
The radius of curvature is equivalent to the length of a normal pendulum.

Diameter of balls: 16 mm

Radius of curvature: 200 mm

Diameter: 140 mm

A rolling ball bearing moves inside a concave acrylic body of spherical curvature. The radius of curvature of the acrylic body corresponds to the length of the pendulum. One special case is a circular motion of the ball around the vertical where it acts like a conical pendulum. Mathematically speaking, the way the location of the oscillating ball changes over time is described by the space vector in spherical coordinates.



My MA degree show installation – ‘Kinetic Energy’



I have recently completed the MA Art and Science course at Central Saint Martins. For my degree show, I wanted to present work that mapped and visually traced a variety of processes including oscillations, Lichtenberg figures and pendulum movements using a variety of mechanisms like harmonographs and Wimshurst machines. My practice involves finding ways of visualising mathematical concepts and the nature of physical laws, from electromagnetism and sound to elementary particles. I have been researching and selecting different types of natural phenomena that can be described using equations.


I applied to show my work at Imperial College as part of the Center for Doctoral Training event. I displayed some pieces that are direct visualisations of static electricity (Lichtenberg figures, see below). During my time at the college, I spoke to MRes student Jeevan Soor about my works. He spoke to me about Maxwell’s equations and how they help to describe Lichtenberg figures. I wondered if the toner dusting process had been used in forensic science and he mentioned that footprints are recorded using an electrostatic lifter. Forensic scientists use a device that generates static charge, and the charge draws the dust from the print on to the black plastic.




I have been exploring the possibilities of using electricity as an artistic tool. Through using a Wimshurst machine, I have been charging up plastic surfaces with static then dusting powders on the surface, thus visualising the invisible Lichtenberg figures left in the plastic. I then exposed the patterns onto photopolymer plates, resulting in works that are visually similar to the piece above. The works are direct visual representations of electricity.



I demonstrated and recorded sound oscillations. This is a recording of sound oscillations on a sooted glass plate. One of the two prongs was equipped with a metal tip. I also used the tuning fork on a zinc etching plate. (below)




The artwork below depicts different phases of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction (2016). The zebrafish is a model organism for pattern formation in vertebrates. First found in chemicals in dishes, (Belousov-Zhabotinsky) then in the stripes and spirals and whorls of animals, Turing patterns are everywhere. Perhaps these patterns extend to ecosystems and galaxies. My plotting electrode and its graphical depiction of Kepler’s laws (image above, 2017) is also a visual representation of Turing inhibitors because the electrode is constantly turning on and off – hence the zebrafish texture.


I’m interested in making links between processes, using the micro to explain the macro – for example, Lissajous figures drawn in sand could be illustrative of Lissajous orbits – the orbital trajectories of planets. My work unravels like Ariadne’s thread, proceeding by using multiple means and attempting exhaustive applications of logic.
Some of the processes are mathematically chaotic in nature, and leave behind a fractal pattern. The idea of chaotic patterning is fascinating and may seem contradictory – one pendulum may represent chaotic motion, the other harmonic – the Lichtenberg figures are chaotic discharges, but may also display self-similarity.

I’m interested in the idea of the mechanical prosthesis between the artist and the art – the work being able to describe something of the natural world. The performative aspect of the work also takes the form of scientific demonstration to be able to describe something about the inventor or discoverer of the equipment or process I am demonstrating.

The delineation of time is also important – simply through visual analysis, the individual strokes of some of my pieces can be given time stamps. The marks produced by plotting electrodes change in reference to its speed – the same can be said for the tuning fork works.

How do these small (Wimshurst machine) and giant (the Large Hadron Collider) technological devices help us to understand the physical universe on different scales?

The relationships that connect this world together are mysterious, indeed, why do these relationships exist? Why and when does mathematical structure appear? Is it that the structure of physical laws is transmitted from a solitary point – the symmetry that becomes diminished and scatters as the universe unwinds itself to the viewer?

‘Kepler, Sulphur Drawing’: The curved movement of a plotting electrode is recorded using the sulphur-marking system.


‘Kepler, Sulphur Drawing 1’: The curved movement of a plotting electrode is recorded using the sulphur-marking system. This produces time-interval marks. Using the distances between the marks as points of reference, one can measure the speed of the electrode. An alternating voltage at the mains frequency is applied between the electrode and the tracing plate, so that the sulphur powder is alternately attracted and repelled according to the changing polarity.

50 Unit exposure vs 25, ‘Bayer MaterialScience’

New photopolymer etching, 420 x 594 mm, named ‘Bayer MaterialScience’ (2016)

I named it ‘Bayer MaterialScience’ due to the text that becomes visualised through the process I use.

I’m using the usual process with static electricity, discharging it onto plastic and then visualising it with toner powder. An interesting development with this process has been the discovery of text. Usually I am just able to visualise the static charge, but I also have been able to visualise the text on the plastic wrapping. As the plastic wrapping is peeled away, I already hear static clicks – and a negative of the writing is left on the plastic. I then visualise the text. Interestingly, through the photopolymer process, the writing finds itself ‘corrected’ – it is no longer back to front in the final etching. This whole process in the etching workshop is a multi-layered deconstruction and play with the printing process.


Below, I also compare the photopolymer etching produced by using a 50 and a 25 unit exposure. I am not entirely sure which look I prefer. I think some of the detail has been burned out for the 50 unit exposure – some of the richness is lacking – but I like the particularly strong contrast for the 50 unit exposure and the way the text has become slightly accentuated.



Reading this, I’m fascinated by the use of a cloud chamber as a conceptual analogy for Abstract

Expressionism. I am also interested in the idea of a scientific demonstration to illustrate the work of an artist.

‘In discussing the action paintings of Jackson Pollock, Brad (a student) set up a visual and conceptual analogy through performance art. Constructing a cloud chamber as it is used in a physics laboratory to track the movement of sub-atomic particles being released from small amounts of radioactive material, he placed an isotope (radium) upon the head of a pin. Imbedded in a cork, the pin was suspended in the cloud chamber below a small piece of alcohol-soaked cloth. Brad sealed the cloud chamber onto a metal plate, which was then placed on a block of dry ice. Next, the intensified light of a slide projector was projected though the chamber. The alcohol condensed and formed a cloud layer over the cold metal plate. As subatomic particles dispersed from the isotope and passed through the cloud, they created additional condensation through their paths, thus making their movement visible. Brad’s non-art gesture in the art history class provided a metaphor by which to understand Pollock’s dynamic movement and drips of paint as an entropic process where matter is continually dispersed in nature.’

‘Brad’s use of a cloud chamber from the physics laboratory to reveal particle dispersion as a metaphor of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings… represent examples of live conundrums…

The word entropy and it’s usage here is the most interesting to me. The word itself can have many meanings. I would say the meaning here is:

(A British Dictionary definition) A lack of pattern or organization; disorder




  1. (on a macroscopic scale) a function of thermodynamic variables, as temperature, pressure, or composition, that is a measure of the energy that is not available for work during a thermodynamic process. A closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy.
  2. (in statistical mechanics) a measure of the randomness of the microscopic constituents of a thermodynamic system. Symbol: S.


(in data transmission and information theory) a measure of the loss of information in a transmitted signal or message.


(in cosmology) a hypothetical tendency for the universe to attain a state of maximum homogeneity in which all matter is at a uniform temperature (heat death)


a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration.

Since Pollock learnt to ‘curveball his drips’ – he had a control over his paintings – they were visually chaotic to the untrained eye, but, I assume, to him, he could describe every choice and mark he made. This, again, reminds me of Joyce describing ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ – Despite Joyce’s revolutionary techniques, the author repeatedly emphasized that the book was neither random nor meaningless; with Ellmann quoting the author as having stated: “I can justify every line of my book.”

Then, we see this quote from Pollock himself:

With experience it seems to be possible to control the flow of paint, to a great extent, and I don’t use – I don’t use the accident – ’cause I deny the accident..’s quite different from working, say, from a still life where you set up objects and work directly from them. I do have a general notion of what I’m about and what the results will be. I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing, that is, it’s direct.

“William Rubin: ‘Actually, Pollock’s work was incredibly, highly controlled. And it took him years to perfect the technique’…’People might say: ‘Anyone can pour paint,’ well that might be true. But, anyone can go up to a piano and push the note ‘c,’ and your ‘c’ will be as good as Rubinstein’s or Horowitz’s. And by the same token, if you spill a little paint, that’s going to be as good as Pollock’s for just that little spill. What makes Horowitz, or Rubinstein is the succession of accents, and the control and and interrelations of these accents as they come one after another. That is what we call the ‘touch’ of the pianist. But the (single) ‘tone’ is the same for you and for Pollock’…”

I’m interested about this. All I would say is a pianist has to learn to sight read, and play something that is already set accurately. I could write a piece, and hear someone play it to me, and know when a wrong note has been played. It wouldn’t just be me who could distinguish that a ‘wrong note’ had been played – it would be most musicians with well-trained ears.

Could we have put Pollock to the test to see if his drips were really incredibly ‘controlled?’ If he, indeed, could ‘flick paint with the accuracy of a cowboy with a lasso’ – we could have him set the positions on a large canvas and ask him to drop the paint in these small places. Pollock would ‘pre-set’ these positions, then paint them in order. I feel like I’d be doing a sort of James Randi test on Pollock!

This would be a move towards a truer equivalence between sight reading and Abstract Expressionism.

Is it a false equivocation? You could say one is particularly disciplined, with each note being played back perfectly – modern art is a relaxation of the idea that you need to ‘learn a craft with vigorous discipline over decades’… Hmm……

Perhaps I’m wrong! I’m just thinking about it…

‘Side Effects’

‘Side Effects’ and ‘Why Make it Simple, When You Can Make It Complex?’
a collaboration between Arts Catalyst, Robert Whitman, The Performance Studio and MA Art and Science at Central Saint Martins
Text by Nicolas Strappini, Virginie Serneels and Monika Dorniak (MA Art and Science)
Phase 1:
Collaboration with Robert Whitman, ‘Side Effects’ 07/10/2016Phase 2:
Arts Catalyst 29/10/2016
A show at the Performance Studio, Peckham, Why Make it Simple When You Can Make It Complex?’ 09/11/2016

‘Why Make it Simple, When You Can Make it Complex?’ came into being as a result of a two month collaboration between Central Saint Martins and Arts Catalyst. Our temporary artist group consisted of students Monika Dorniak, Virginie Serneels and Nicolas Strappini from MA Art & Science, and external alumni Verena Hermann and Mary Simmons, MA Fine Art at UCA Farnham. The initial reason for the project was as a development of Arts Catalyst’s exhibition about the revolutionary ‘9 Evenings’ project presented in New York (1966), involving artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer and John Cage.

Photographs by Christopher Fernandez of Side Effects performance at Central Saint Martins, 7 October 2016In the first stage of our project we worked together with one of the original participants, Robert Whitman, helping to develop his performance presented on the 7th of October. The performance re-invented the rules of theatre and performance by including engineering elements, and integrating off-stage activities with live video footage. You can view the full performance here.

In the second stage of the project we were asked to develop new works that questioned the idea of performance in the 21st century. Marita Solberg, a visual artist and musician based in Tromsø and Manndalen, Northern-Norway, developed a workshop with us to help facilitate the generation of ideas. For our group show we worked with David Thorne, the founder of The Performance Studio in Peckham. In response to the performance we presented our artistic interpretations at Arts Catalyst (29th of October) and The Performance Studio (9th of November).The title ‘Why Make It Simple When It Can Be Made Complex?’ was decided during our group conversations about life in the Anthropocene, considering the loss and gain of control through technological developments. With the diversity of our backgrounds the presentations developed individually and included elements of robotics, chemistry, neurology, theatre design, dance, engineering and fine art. While some of the works invited the audience to interact and participate in artistic debates, others were classically designed to be observed by the viewer.

More Information on our individual projects:

Monika Dorniak ‘The Metacognitive Tool’

Performer: Alice WeberVirginie Serneels ‘9 Evenings & Side Effects reload’

Nicolas Strappini ‘Wimshurst, Powder’

I explore CERN

From the Central Saint Martins website, images by Nicolas Strappini

From experiments with cloud chambers to exploring NASA space models and a meeting with a Nobel Prize winner, 21 students and staff from our MA Art and Science explored CERN on an intensive four-day trip to Geneva. Some of them share their experiences of the trip below. 

Below: Nicolas Strappini at the Large Hadron Collider


“We set out to find out as much as we could about the work and life of CERN, challenging our preconceptions of how art could help with the process of thinking and conceiving new ideas.  We found out so much about everything from detectors to the photons in the Large Hadron Collider. I’m looking forward to making more black hole experiments back at CSM.“
Heather Scott, second year student

“One of my highlights was the final lecture from Prof. John Ellis, who reminded us of a painting by Gauguin which had the following statements tucked in a corner: ‘Where do we come from?’, ‘What are we?’, ‘Where are we going? CERN focused the mind on attempting to better understand the universe and what we can contribute to the sharing of scientific thought.”
Maria Macc, second year student


“I was particularly keen to experience Mick Storr’s cloud chamber experiments with my colleagues. We were challenged to think as physicists or meteorologists, to create our own chambers and describe our findings. Eventually we worked through our observations and in one afternoon we had created a device to display cosmic rays which are all around us!”
Nicolas Strappini, second year student

“CERN’s mission is to explore the origins of the universe, answering questions about where we come from and what we are made of. The science involves a discourse engaged with data, numbers, chemicals and particles. But the outcome is about humans and humanity, and the individuals driving this search are as important as the knowledge coming out of it.”
Jill Mueller, 1st year MAAS

We are very grateful to Dr Mick Storr, Dr Michael Hoch and all their colleagues at CERN. And, thanks to our colleague Dr Andy Charalambous, Associate Lecturer on the MA, for setting up the trip.

Following this trip, the students along with the accompanying tutors plan to create a display inspired by their visit – follow MA Art and Science on Twitter or Facebook for exhibition and research updates.

The experiences and insights featured in this piece were sourced by second year MA Art and Science student Maria Macc.