Plotting a Path: Art and Science

At first it might seem that art exists on the other side of the coin from math and science but this is not the case. Over the centuries artists have explored and cataloged the numbers and systems behind everything from patterning to the underlying structure of basic forms. Artists have not only been scientists, they have also visualized scientific discoveries and helped us understand the world.

Here are two examples of young artists working today who celebrate the relationships between the worlds of math/science and visual arts.

Sculpture by Ryan and Trevor Oakes

Ryan and Trevor Oakes are identical twins who have been collaborating with each other since birth. Their artworks generally start with a very simple procedure that is repeated over and over until the process results in a completed form. In the sculpture seen here wooden matches are laid side by side. Because the match head is thicker than the stick, the row of matches gradually becomes a circle and layers of those circular rows become a hemisphere. The finished sculpture is the result of a formulaic action repeated thousands of times – a process called an algorithm in mathematics.

Ryan + Trevor Oakes: Overcoming the Conundrum of Photography from EMPAC @ Rensselaer on Vimeo.

Visual perception, and how it is recorded, is another interest of the Oakes brothers. As a byproduct of their investigations they have developed a 3D drawing device that aids them in accurately representing complex scenes in a way that captures the full range of our field of vision – including peripheral vision. This video shows the device and demonstrates how it is used.

Sculpture by Nathalie Miebach

Nathalie Miebach is a sculptor and basket weaver who creates artwork that visualizes scientific data. For the past ten years she has focused exclusively on weather phenomena. Although her work is driven by empirical data it is playful and poetic, never didactic.

Miebach’s process involves collecting information over extended periods of time from her own recording devices as well as from official weather stations and offshore buoys. Specific threads of information such as wind speed, temperature, barometric pressure, and tides/sea level are plotted on graph paper. She then constructs a basket that has the same parameters as the chart (e.g., 24 vertical spokes in the basket for a chart based on a 24 hour day and different sized reeds for different data threads). The basket functions essentially as a three-dimensional chart. As the data points on the chart change over the recorded time of the weather event the basket weave changes. Once the basic form is complete, Miebach adds layers of other data points to it such as sunrise and sunset or phases of the moon.

The end result of Miebach’s process is to give tactile form and playfulness to a collection of abstract numbers…to make a three-dimensional model of an event in time.

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