Although I was traveling over the last weekend, Mark and I met via video chat and asked and answered some questions. I was interested to hear about the “Celebrate Science” event at University of Durham. It turns out, the event was attended by mostly children, who typically have a hard time folding the origami tessellations related to Mark’s work. Maybe this is something we can work on! Model kits and model making from paper, in my experience, require a well designed instructional booklet.
There was mention of virus geometry being a topic at the event, and I told Mark that there is a huge crossover between mathematics and geometry, and cell or molecular structure. For example, most virus shells, or capsids, are formed in either a helical-cylindrical shape, or an icosahedral-spherical shape. The mention led me to one of my favorite resources, “Order in Space: A Design Source Book” by Keith Critchlow. I will share a bit more on that next week… it’s gonna get philosophical.
In my travels last week, I reconnected with a colleague from my former art studio in Newark, NJ, artist and master papermaker at Rutgers University, Anne Q. McKeown, who just so happened to attend Julia Buntaine’s talk on neuroaesthetics, something I have not studied for some years! Anne and I both find the subject captivating. Dusting off those bookshelves in my memory, I recall writing in my sketchbooks about the process that happens in the mind when one looks at, well, anything! Scribbled notes on the TEDtalks of Dr. Ramachandran... pages from the sketchbooks of Ramon y Cajal… I still think about what must happen, neurologically, when looking off into a distant landscape… And I am brought back to much of the jargon-y vocabulary that lets me communicate these concepts with the STEM community, whereas in my art studio, I tend to use much different words.
For example, bottom-up and top-down thinking came back into my consciousness this week through a PRI broadcast and article featuring neuroscientist Dr. Eric Kandel, and I briefly explained the concept to Mark. I frame my artworks in this context, offering something familiar for the visual system to chew on, utilizing bottom-up thinking, taking into account all that we already know, and then accenting or augmenting it with some information that requires top-down thinking, something that demands personal context, imagination, and interpretation. The top-down approach, as is mentioned in the insightful interview linked above, allows the viewer to engage in a creative process of their own while viewing an abstract artwork, something that sets modern and abstract art apart from its figurative counterpart. Mark said it’s taken him some practice when reading papers to engage his top-down thinking, to ensure that he’s not getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty details of analysis, and so he can come away from a paper with an idea of how it fits into the greater context of his own contribution and expertise. Instead of a rote exercise, it becomes a fulfilling creative process.
After some thoughts on the viewer, then comes of the question of content. One of the greatest privileges of being partnered with a scientist is being able to pick his brain on questions I wouldn’t be able to ask anyone else! For example, if I am an artist making art using scientific data, I, as an artist, may be attracted to some portion of data that seems interesting from my perspective, but how does that fit into what the scientists deem to be interesting or important? We’ll be keeping this in mind as Mark collects some data for me to manipulate into different visualizations and graphs. What will happen when artworks contain familiarities like the coordinate system, labels and keys normally found in graphs, or simply the impression of data through the use of color and line, the types of visual imagery we as 21st century folks are more and more exposed to everyday through our interactions with technology? What can be added, altered, or omitted so that the work demands the viewer to imagine and subjectively interpret what is in front of them? It’s that personal connection to science (technology, engineering, math…) through art, that I aim to evoke in the viewer. How will our work on visualizations of the origami tessellation of the dark-matter sheet create opportunities for learning and insight, as well as creative engagement from the viewer? We may have to come up with a hypothesis.
In a previous couple of blog entries, I discussed a model, inspired by some "jitterbug" models that Lizzy shared with me, that shows how neighboring galaxies tend to spin in the same direction. The design makes this model tactile: turning one tetrahedron will turn all its neighbors at the same time (as may be seen in a previous blog video, in which I rotated tetrahedral elements of a model built from straws).
I tried 3D-printing a somewhat more sophisticated version of this design. That succeeded as I designed it:
I designed the small blue tetrahedra to be able to spin and move completely freely around ball joints connected to the white, large tetrahedron. I planned to hold the 4 pieces of this model together by attaching them with rubber bands, but unfortunately, I could not manage to do that! It was not even clear to me that the design would hold together stably if I were to manage it. So, I will change the design, to allow the tetrahedra not to move arbitrarily around the ball, but to just rotate around pegs ... this should capture the relevant motions.
In a meeting last week, Lizzy and I also discussed the fascinating structure and substructure of a galaxy in so-called phase space, and in the next couple of days I will providing her with some data that she can play with.
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Lizzy Storm is an artist and owner of Lizzy Storm Designs based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Mark Neyrinck is an award-winning astrophysicist and cosmologist, and a postdoctoral researcher at Durham University, United Kingdom.