Art of Science: Xavier Cortada explores Physics and Marine Biology

In search of the Higgs boson: H -> WW, digital art, 2013.
Xavier Cortada, In search of the Higgs boson: H -> WW, digital art, 2013.

Xavier Cortada is an artist whose interests spread across many areas of science. His works have included projects at both the North and South Poles, and his subjects have ranged from DNA nucleotides to subatomic particles. This month, Cortada’s work is on display in two very different exhibitions.

The first, at Chcago’s Fermilab Art Gallery, focuses on art as a means of education and outreach, and features artists who have collaborated closely with scientists. Cortada is showing five large “digital tapestries” that he created as a fellow at CERN that portray the five search strategies which the CMS (compact muon solenoid) experiment used to discover a new Higgs-like particle. The exhibition, which also features work by Michael Hoch, Peter Markowitz, and Lindsay Olson, is open through April 22.

In a completely different vein, Cortada and a group of botanical illustrators have teamed up to create an exhibition called In Deep with Diatoms on display at the Frost Art Museum at Miami’s Florida International University, though February 22. The artists used traditional watercolor techniques to explore the unique and complex beauty of diatoms, single-celled aquatic microorganisms.

If you can’t make it to either show, you can see more of Cortada’s work on his website.

 

 

 

The Art of Science: Density Fluctuations

Crustacean 11

Ellyn Weiss, Unidentified Specimen, Wax and Pigment

Concepts of time and change center the work of three artists in a show entitled Density Fluctuations that opened yesterday at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD. The exhibition features work inspired by physics and biology by Shanthi Chandrasekar, Stephen Schiff and Ellyn Weiss in a variety of media. Chandrasekar, who studied physics before becoming a painter, explores the differences in the understanding of time as expressed in science and myth. Stephen Schiff morphs photographs, starting with images of nature and multiplying them and reconfiguring them like cells to create new, complex geometries. Ellyn Weiss uses layers of wax and pigment to create her imagined versions of creatures discovered by science as layers of ice melt. The intriguing shapes of her sculptures hint at unknown species of animals or strange mineral deposits. Together, the work of these three beguiling artists in approaching such heady topics is sure to provide plenty of food for thought.

Density Fluctuations is on display at the American Center for Physics until April 2015. More information is here.

Shanthi Chandrasekar, Chakra-Neer, Acrylic on Canvas
Shanthi Chandrasekar, Chakra-Neer, Acrylic on Canvas

The Art of Science: Tamsin van Essen’s Charming Quarks

Tamsin Van Essen, Quarks (Back), 2008
Tamsin van Essen, Quarks (Black), 2008

Ceramic artist Tamsin van Essen uses a combination of novel and traditional techniques to produce thought-provoking pieces, including many drawn from science and medicine. For example, her Medical Heirlooms series comprised a series of vessels that seemed to have skin diseases, while the cups in her Contamination series appeared to have been colonized by various nasty bacteria.

I was particularly drawn to her Collection of Curious Objects, a series of less traditionally shaped objects inspired by theoretical physics.  On her website, Van Essen explains:

Physicists are busy developing sophisticated theories around the existence of things that are impossible for us to see, perfecting mathematical models of the ‘beyond-visible’ worlds of the very large and distant (using Einstein’s theory of relativity) and the very small (using quantum mechanics).

Focusing on this realm of the intangible, I wanted to explore how abstract theoretical ideas can be visually represented. I also wanted to play with the notion that today’s cutting-edge theories may one day be seen as quaint and curious museum pieces: theoretical antiques or abstract junk.

The objects might be found in someone’s dusty attic or perhaps turn up on Antiques Roadshow in the future: “Oh my! Look what they thought in 2008!”

Tamsin van Essen, “Curious Objects”

I love their simultaneous seriousness and playfulness – ceramic quarks and wormholes! – demonstrating van Essen’s willingness to engage with difficult and abstract ideas in an accessible but not dumbed-down way. And while I can admire the thought and craft that goes into a vase that appears to have syphilis, I’d much rather have a shiny quark.

If you’re in the UK, you can see some of van Essen’s work in the Subversive Design show at the Brighton Museum through March 2014.

The Art of Science: What’s a Wirbelwerk?

Wirbelwerk, 2013
Wirbelwerk, 2013

I’m crazy about Olafur Eliasson’s Wirbelwerk, an installation of colored glass, metal rods and a light source that throws constantly changing patterns over every surface of the atrium at Munich’s LenbachhausWirbelwerk, which means vortex or whirlpool, looks like a glittering, light filled cross between a tornado and an icicle. The piece combines three longtime preoccupations of Eliasson’s work: weather, light and space. Not to mention packing in plenty of engineering and optical physics for us nerds. Lots more photos here.

The Art of Science: Grandma’s Sofa meets Satellite Technology

Jacob Tonski, Balance From Within, 2010-12
Jacob Tonski, Balance From Within, 2010-12

Jacob Tonski’s Balance From Within looks like an illusionist’s trick, but it’s really a clever bit of engineering, applying space-age technology to an old-fashioned piece of furniture.

Tonski, an artist who teaches at the University of Miami, Ohio, found a broken-down sofa from the 1840s, took it apart and installed a reaction wheel, a rotating device often used to reorient satellites or telescopes.  He then added a second axis to the reaction wheel, which allowed the sofa to balance, as if by magic, on one leg.

Tonski says the piece is a “meditation on the nature of human relations, and the things we build to support them.” He notes that a wide range of human interactions take place on sofas, and that they need to be solidly built to support our delicate relationships.

The sofa’s mechanism self-corrects when the piece is touched gently, but if it is pushed too far, like a relationship, it can break apart. Fortunately, the pieces of the sofa are held together with strong magnets, allowing it to be rebuilt quickly and easily, unlike a relationship. Oh, well. Metaphors are never perfect.

Balance From Within is currently on display at the FILE festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil until September 1.   You can watch a video of the sofa in motion here.

HT  to The Creators Project

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