June 28, 2009

Field Polaroid #4: Art and Science

Sunlight reaches out to touch the dormant dew-laden balloons. Longer blades of grass begin to sway in a light breeze.

Archimedes’ was the Greek scientist who discovered the principle of buoyancy. There is an infamous story of him leaping from his bath and running naked down the streets crying ‘Eureka’ when he noticed that water rose when he sat in his bath. The buoyancy principle applies equally to gases such as helium which are lighter than air. In this case the external pressure of oxygen forces the helium balloons upwards.

I think there are a lot of similarities between Scientists and Artists. Both require a creative, open and inquiring mind. Both have a natural curiosity. Importantly, both work with the future in mind. The products of both scientific discovery and art also give us a stronger sense of who we are and how we fit into the universe. Questions are not always answered, but sometimes raised instead.

If I wasn’t an artist, Science would be high up on my list of alternate careers. What I am currently loving is seeing a merge between art and science in the works of artists such as Walter De Maria, Nancy Holt, Renata Buziak, Stelarc and Patricia Piccinini. There are many, many more that I could add to this list. In fact, if you have a favourite artist that merges science and art or even a scientist using art, please let me know in the comments section.

Walter De Maria’s seminal work The Lightning Field is an interesting piece in itself. It is made up of 400 stainless steel poles spread grid-like across a field in the remote Western New Mexico. The work is apparently best experienced during a lightning storm as the poles become grounding points for the electricity. However, because of the remoteness and the strict conditions attached to viewing the work, very few people can actually experience the work. Photography is also restricted so it is not an artwork for the masses. While I like the idea behind this work which utilizes scientific knowledge I do have a many questions about its perceived value.

One work I found particularly fascinating, that blurred the boundaries between art and practical science, was a garden project set up on radioactively contaminated land. The ‘art’ project involved earth remediation through the use of selected plants that can absorb heavy chemicals such as mercury and lead. A small area was fenced off and divided into four squares with different plants in each to study the effectiveness of each plant. This garden art work was questioned as to whether it actually constituted as ‘art’ or if it was just a practical science project. The artist argued that it was the concept behind the work in renewing the contaminated land that made it art. I am very annoyed that I cannot remember the name of the artist who made this work! I came across it in a book last year while exploring the work of Nancy Holt. Always write these things down! *edit: thank you to the anonymous commenter for giving me the name. Mel Chin is the artist and the work is called 'Revival Field'. More about this work can be found here.* It is works like this one where the line is blurred that I find particularly interesting.

Speaking of Nancy Holt, this artist belongs to the Land art tradition, and I found her Sun Tunnels while researching for my Archimedes’ Field project. Her Sun Tunnels are four large concrete tunnels placed in the shape of an X. Each one has holes drilled into the top in the shape of various constellations. The tunnels draw attention to light and our relationship to the sun, the stars and the passing of time as the view changes constantly with both the time of day and the time of year. What I like about her many works are that they are useful, accessible and socially necessary as well as beautiful.

Renata Buziak’s Biochromes are stunning and unusual documentations of the decompositions of plants using photographic paper. She has developed a unique way for the photographic medium to interact with vegetation. Her work allows for nature to take over the process of creating the final artwork in a very intimate way.

I guess the similarities between these works and my own is that they all allow for nature to take care of the results of the work, they all have a basis in scientific knowledge and they all openly welcome chance.

Throughout the shooting of Archimedes’ Field I was constantly at the whim of the wind. I had initially imagined the balloons standing tall like sentinals but the slightest breeze would set them off in every direction. They often would dance around in seemingly illogical directions. Also, like the land artists, my work was firstly designed to be experienced in person and interacted with. It was a mini-installation for my family and myself to enjoy.

One of the most beautiful moments of the whole installation was when I sat amongst the balloons alone on the first night. The moon was shining and reflecting off the ivory balloons, millions of stars shone above, and all was quiet except for the occasional dog bark and night bird. Oh, and there was the sound of the balloons. It was incredible, I still remember the soft sounds they made as they bounced randomly into each other creating a surreal orchestra that was visual as well as aural. They were alive and communicating with each other and their song was sublime.


Anonymous said...

Mel chin maybe the artist you are looking for re the radioactive hyperaccumulator plants

Rachel Marsden said...

Yes! Thankyou! That is who I was looking for. Thank you so much!