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.

MAXWELL’S EQUATIONS AND LICHTENBERG FIGURES

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.

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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.

TUNING FORK DRAWINGS

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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)

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KEPLER’S LAWS DRAWN IN SULPHUR

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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.

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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?

‘Side Effects’ Performance – photography by Christopher Fernandez

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Myself and Robert Whitman, photograph by Christoper Fernandez

Robert Whitman’s revisitation of the ‘9 Evenings’ event that happened 60 years ago

would seem to be a departure from the piece he presented. Whitman presented

‘Two Holes of Water’ created in collaboration with the engineer Robby

Robinson and including a dance component by Trisha Brown. In Whitman’s

performance, seven automobiles were driven wrapped in huge sheets of plastic.

they were parked towards a wall.

This piece was more concerned with everyday, mundane actions being performed

with ‘disruptions’ – small diversions from these actions that would end up marking

it as performance art. There is a humour to it, and an element of surprise

– most actions start normally, but then food is thrown on the floor, clothes get

ripped and eaten (reminiscent of Werner Herzog or even Chaplin eating his shoe)

or a wig is used instead of hair.

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In conversation with Whitman, he mentioned to me the film ‘Russian Ark’ – the 2002

film by Alexander Sokurov,  filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State

Hermitage Museum. The most memorable aspect of the work is that it is

filmed in one take – a while feature length film (99 minutes). It utilises over 2,000

actors and three orchestras. Whitman wanted to eschew the Aristotelian narrative

form of much Western drama with a climax (coda from the Latin cauda ‘tail’) and a preface

or foreword.

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This style of performance and producing work was in vogue at the time of the ‘9 Evenings’

performance – Cage sought to ‘take away the center of interest, emphasising instead the field’

(From the book ‘Composed in  America’). 

Even though the performance had been worked out, for the final performance,

Whitman decided to lengthen some passages and allow sound effects to be played

at times that had not been planned. There was an element of uncertainty and even

though Whitman was very specific with his plans, he would also frequently change his

mind, and he also allowed us to improvise and respected our positions

as artists.

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There was a live streaming aspect – participants walked around the city,

specifically to recognisable sites, but also those that were not too recognisable –

we decided the Barbican might be suitable. This element of the utilisation of

new technology was important for the original performance – iPhones and Skype

were used this time instead of old radio receivers. In 1864 James Clerk Maxwell

showed mathematically that electromagnetic waves could propagate through

free space. The effects of electromagnetic waves (then-unexplained “action at

a distance” sparking behavior) were actually observed before and after

Maxwell’s work by many inventors and experimenters

including Luigi Galvani (1791). Galvani was ever the pioneer, and I have

previously referenced his bioelectricity experiments in some of my drawings.

Cage set up many radios in his work for ‘9 Evenings’ entitled ‘Variations VII’ and

picked up all these invisible electromagnetic waves and had the sounds of

electromagnetic noise played through the space. I believe, at least partially,

Whitman was referencing this aspect through the live streaming aspect.