Technician, USA

Feb 13 2013

Exhibit merges art and science

Students struggle to see any art or beauty in the numbers and exact measurements that fill their textbooks. However, masters of math and science seem to have no trouble bridging this gap between the cold logic of calculations and the deeply profound and beautiful.

In an attempt to showcase the interplay between art, science and the natural world, British conceptual artist Alistair McClymont, created a collection of pieces that the Contemporary Art Museum opened to the public Feb. 1.

Though McClymont’s exhibit opened in an art museum, Kate Shafer, the Gallery and Exhibitions Manager for CAM, said that some people noted that these pieces of art would not have been out of place at a science museum.

McClymont’s artworks include a bench made of 144 fiberboard panels that denote every prime number between one and 144 and a set of 100 sheets of photographic paper that models, to-scale, the size of the earth in comparison to the sun. The exhibit lends itself to scientific discussion —which is one of McClymont’s intents.

With a new setting and a new perspective, McClymont’s exhibit may help people who struggle with the hard sciences find the art and beauty that masters seem to find so accessible in their research.

William Clifford, an English mathematician and philosopher who died in 1879, once said that all poets, painters and musician found their art ready-made for them in the natural world.

This may describe some of McClymont’s pursuits.

With several artworks that attempts to capture natural phenomenon, works such as “The Limitations of Logic and the Absence of Absolute Clarity,” an installation art piece consisting of a contraption that creates a miniature tornado using three fans and a humidifier, McClymont seems to challenge the contrived ways that people have used to describe the natural world — whether through art or science.

“My artwork is a continuing process of discovery and experimentation,” McClymont said in a statement on the CAM website. “Each piece follows the last in a continual journey of investigation into cultural and physical phenomena. The work is underlined by a search for what it is to be human. This might be our position in time and space on a grand scale, or singular observations on subjects that fascinate me. Each piece takes a small subject area and breaks it down into something understandable and perhaps beautiful.”

McClymont’s “Raindrop” also exemplifies his practice of finding ways of showcasing scientific concepts in more visceral ways.
In “Raindrop,” a miniature wind tunnel suspends a drop of water for a limited amount of time before outside forces disturb the balance of the tunnel and send the drop flying off into empty space.

Shafer said that McClymont sees each drop of water the tunnel cradles as a sculpture, offering audiences a new way to understand the nature around them.

In some of his other artworks displayed at CAM, McClymont also explored the concept of time, another mathematical concept that people contrived to describe natural phenomenon.

McClymont’s “Unix Time,” displays a 24-hour time lapse of the sky. A number is overlayed over the image which represents the number of seconds since Jan. 1, 1970—which is how certain compuer programs describe instances in time. Though coding is completely logic-based, McClymont finds beauty in it, and CAM administrators hope that visitors do as well.

Many teachers and professors found benefits in bringing their students to the exhibit because of its emphasis on the hard sciences. On Jan. 31, CAM invited students to the exhibit for inspiration. A few teachers even organized student projects around some of the art on display at CAM.

Shafer said that she found ways to appreciate McClymont’s art not just as an art lover, but also as a math lover herself. Before she decided to pursue her art degree, Shafer considered a degree in science instead because she was fascinated with the natural world.

“I’m an art person but I’m also a science person, and I’m a math person,” Shafer said. “Albert Einstein once said, ‘if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it.’ This exhibit is a really beautiful example of that, explaining these things in way people can grasp.”