Art of Science: Anna Garforth’s Big Bang

Anna Garforth, The Big Bang, 2012
Anna Garforth, The Big Bang, 2012

I like art and I like science. Most of the time, I think that getting the science right makes the art stronger. In this case, well, what the hell? Anna Garforth’s The Big Bang is an installation assembled from hundreds of moss tufts collected from stone walls around Hackney, London. According to Garforth, “the installation depicts Mother Earth as a seed shattering explosion.” So what if plants didn’t show up on our planet until billions of years after the Big Bang? Sometimes, it’s the feeling that counts, and Garforth nails the idea of a sudden eruption that brought forth life on earth.

You can see this piece and lots more of her work on her website.

The Art of Science: Turning Pollution into Pigment

John Sabraw, Chroma S1 12, 2013, Mixed media on aluminum composite panel
John Sabraw, Chroma S1 12, 2013, Mixed media on aluminum composite panel

Need proof that you can make art out of almost anything? Artist John Sabraw creates beautiful paintings using the byproducts of acid mine drainage. Sabraw, an artist and professor at Ohio University, works together with OU chemists and engineers to turn the toxic runoff from abandoned mines into pigments, which he then makes into paints and uses to create his artwork.

Ohio has miles of abandoned coal mines filled with metal dust. The mines eventually fill with water, which becomes acidic as the oxygen in it reacts with sulfide minerals in the rock, and picks up high concentrations of iron and aluminum. This water then spills out into streams, polluting them and killing wildlife.

An environmental engineering professor at OU, Guy Riefler, worked with some students to develop a novel approach to this problem – to take this toxic runoff and turn it into paint. This is not as crazy as it sounds – many commercial red and yellow paints are made from ferric oxyhydroxides, one of the major components of the polluted water. Riefler and his students worked on processing and refining the runoff into pigment (there’s a video here that goes through the main steps). Then they approached Sabraw, who had experience in making paints from scratch, to be a product tester.

The rest is not so much history as, well, science and art. Sabraw created a range of both oil and water-based paints from the runoff and now uses them to make all of his paintings, which have been featured in numerous gallery shows. You can see his work in an upcoming show at Chicago’s McCormick Gallery from March 6- April 25, 2015 or at his website.

Riefler and Sabraw are continuing to work on the paints, and hope to create a viable commercial line, with proceeds going to clean up polluted streams in Ohio.

The Art of Science: Fujiko Nakaya Creates an Atmosphere

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Foggy Forest, Tokyo, 1992
photo : Shigeo Ogawa

Fujiko Nakaya is the world’s foremost sculptor of fog. And in the sense that it is not really possible to sculpt fog, you could say she has been doing the impossible for over 40 years.

Nakaya began her career in Japan as a painter. But, frustrated with the limitations of painting and inspired by her father, a scientist who is credited with making the first artificial snowflakes, she essentially invented her own medium.  Working with engineers, she developed a system to create and disperse water vapor through pipes to create fog. For her first fog sculpture, she covered the entire Pepsi pavilion at Osaka’s Expo ’70 in fog. Since then, using the same technology, she has created more than 50 fog sculptures in environments ranging from art galleries to bridges to forests.

Using water vapor as a sculptural element is at once simple and profound.  It transfigures the environment, making the familiar seem strange and dreamlike, and then disappears without a trace, absorbed back into the air. The artist says that in ancient Japan, fog was seen as “the breathing of the atmosphere.”

Intriguingly, Nakaya’s latest fog sculpture is set to debut at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, a city famous for fog. Her work will be installed along a pedestrian bridge in the sure-to-be-spectacular new Exploratorium space which will open on April 15 on the Embarcadero waterfront.   As Nakaya explained to ArtNews, “On calm days, fog will bundle on the bridge and gently flow along the canal onto the ocean,” she says. “With a strong wind, it will hoist upward into the sky like a dragon. On humid days, it floats over the water and lingers in tufts. Its ever-changing form is the probe, in real time, of its immediate environment.”

If you can’t make it to San Francisco, here’s a video of Nakaya’s installation Cloud Forest, from 2010.