Sunday, January 29, 2012

Transparent Wunderkammer

Iori Tomaki's “New World Transparent Specimens” began with established scientific tools for studying the skeletal systems of zoological specimens (using enzymes to turn the proteins transparent, dyeing the bones magenta and dyeing the cartilages blue), refined the colouration to make whole wunderkammers of fascinating "specimen" in glycerin for, as he explains, everything from academic purposes, to objects for artistic or philosophic contemplation. I love that he's taken his experience in fisheries and employed it to make art at the interface of art and science.

See more specimens here.
(via form is void)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

Flying Dragonm 32" x 32" with 67 cm x 67cm with silk brocade mat
By Artist Chan Da Bei

Today is New Year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. This is the year of the water dragon. The Year of the Dragon is considered the luckiest in the Chinese Zodiac. I hope it treats you well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mathemagical Solar System Song

Daniel Starr-Tambor’s Mandala (above) is a musical palindrome of 62 vigintillion (1063) notes, which represents musically all the rotational frequencies of the planets (and Pluto) in our solar system! (via Brain Pickings) I've always been a fan of the palindrome (which is something which remains the same if write forward or backward) since my name (Ele) is one of the shortest palindromes. Mandala boasts that it is the longest palindrome ever written, and I do not doubt it.

It's perhaps surprising how lovely the music is to hear, for such a mathematical approach to music composition - though the two languages, math and music, are quite naturally intimately entwined. He's not the first to think of the planetary motions in terms of music. He alludes to Bach (and Bach’s The Art of the Fugue) explicitly, with its contrapunctal mathematical and arguably Pythagorean structure.* The concept of the Music of the Spheres was quite a common way for scholars to think about the motions of heavenly bodies, up to the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. It can be traced back to the ancient Greek mathematical-mystic Pythagoras, who first linked musical pitch to the length of a vibrating string which produced it. Further harmonious sounds were produced by strings with simple (rational) length ratios. This fit well with his adoration of rational numbers.** Pythagoras, in his theory of the Harmony of the Spheres, proposed that celestial bodies (Sun, Moon, and the known planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) each emitted a hum based on their period of revolution. Recall, that it was assumed that the Sun, moon and planets orbited around the Earth. Further, that the ratios were harmonious, like those produced by strings of simple length ratios. Thus, for Pythagoras, music and astronomy were two sides of a single mathematical coin. Ptolemy's model of the geocentric solar system, wherein each of Sun, Moon, known planets, and stars (quintessence) were more-or-less pinned to a series of transparent, nested, rotating spheres encapsulating the Earth, dominated the Western world view for 1500 years. Thus "Music of the Spheres" referred to the 'harmonies' of the motions of these imaginary spheres.

The first real shift in thinking is of course attributed to Copernicus, who proposed a heliocentric model, where the Earth, like the planets, circled the Sun, and the Moon circled the Earth. This model was famously improved by Kepler, who, thanks to Tycho Brahe's immaculately recorded data, was able to show that planetary orbits are in fact elliptical (slightly more oval than a perfect circle), with the Sun at one of the two foci of the ellipse. He further showed that a line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time. And, that the square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit. These three facts are known as Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion. You'll see that they refer to geometry and ratios, just like Pythagoras did before him. In fact, while we tend to honour Kepler as some sort of harbinger of modern science, his worldview was in many ways still Medieval. He did not think in terms of the simple, beautiful, elliptical solar system (as we still know it today). He was obsessed with proportions and attempted to explain astronomical (and worse, to the modern mind) astrological ratios in terms of music, in his own favorite publication Harmonices Mundi. His very first attempt to articulate his discoveries, now known as his three laws, was written in terms of musical notation (above). He wrote, "the movements of the heavens are nothing except a certain everlasting polyphony." (He ended up embroiled in a priority dispute with Robert Fludd, whose own harmonic theory is illustrated as the "THE MUNDANE MONOCHORD WITH ITS PROPORTIONS AND INTERVALS", the stringed instrument with planetary orbits, From Fludd's De Musica Mundana above). He also conceived of it in terms of polyhedra; he imagined the five Platonic solids (octahedron, icosahedron, dodecahedron, tetrahedron, cube) circumscribed by spheres, nested one within the other. This, he claimed, could explain the ratio of orbits of the six known planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). Kepler's insights, along with the concept of centrifugal force from Huygens, allowed Newton, Edmund Halley, and possibly Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke to deduce that gravitational attraction between the Sun and its planets decreased with the square of the distance between them. This in turn lead to Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation. So, we owe this groundbreaking idea as much to musical theory, and imaginary geometrical patterns, as rational, mathematically-based reasoning.

*For how Bach encoded his name into The Art of the Fugue, see one of my favorite books, Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter.

**We all recall Pythagoras for Pythagoras' theorem (the square of the hypotenus is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides for right angle triangles). Imagine his, and his cult's horror when they realized that for one of the simplest triangles, where "the other two sides" each have length of 1 unit, the hypotenus must have an irrational √2 length! The irrationality of √2 did not fit into the tidy rational, mathematical world of the Pythagoreans. It was perhaps the first of a long series of instances where the beauty of mathematics was mistaken for something tidy and controllable.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Diagramatic Self- Portrait

비몽사몽도(非夢似夢圖)_Detail plan of somnolence(2008)

I've seen the staggering art of Korean artist Minjeong An on a few sites now (50 Watts, colossal...) but I need to share this with you. She uses the complexity of scientific visualizations as an artistic method to great affect. You must imagine the effect of this level of anatomical and science-inspired complexity on a larger-than-our-bodies scale. She is clearly inspired by scientific ideas, as can be seen in "The Power of a Kiss" which explicitly quotes Newton's Second Law of motion or F = ma (force is equal to mass times acceleration), amusingly for her mother's spit when kissing. She writes about how her mother's kiss was able to inspire her to walk to elementary school, but when she was old enough to go on her own, a kiss no longer inspired, but nor did she receive any.

The theme of family also recures in "Detail plan of six membered family:...". The mother's warmth is shown through her "aura" (shown as golden yellow rays), sharing aloe, and also from a more scientific standpoint in the formula for what An calls the "maternal hormone" oxytocin. (Please visit her site to view these images at larger scales).

The 'house plants' light panel explores photosynthesis and the role of human emotion (or so I am able to glean, with some uncertainty and aid from google translate).

The view of her self-portrait in progress makes me imagine she inhabits a fascinating word of complex sensority inputs, as if she's trying to get all of reality (from the nanoscale to human-scale) onto the page.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Riding Ostriches

Occasionally, I see something illustrated which seems wonderfully absurd. Like this staging of a mannequin wearing Iris Apfel's apparel (and signature glasses) riding an ostrich from the Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel of the Peabody Essex Museum. Then, somehow, I am reminded of this by, say, an illustration,

Yiiha! by Sabine Gebhardt

which in turn brings to mind, a prize-winning screenprint by local Toronto printmaker (and teacher at Open Studio) Daryl Vocat:

Daryl Vocat, Practicing Strategic Invisibility is an
Excellent Way to Mislead Enemies, screenprint

which I mistakenly remembered as someone riding an ostrich, but which is nothing of the sort (but too delightfully absurd to omit). This sort of thing prompts me to search whether this is a more common idea than I would have thought (having the strong impression that ostriches are not kindly animals, and would be ill-inclined to accepting a rider).

Detective Comics #67, Cover: Original Art by Jerry Robinson(DC, 1942)

According to io9, not only did the first Batman comic book appearance (1942, in Detective Comics #67) of the villain Penguin involve a cover illustration of the crook riding an ostrich, but when it came up for auction last November, bids exceeded $200,000!

I knew nothing of old school video game Joust, where "the player controls a yellow knight riding a flying ostrich from a third-person perspective" but I admire this propaganda style poster by illustrator Steve Thomas:

Much to my surprise, even the most cursory enquiry reveals that not only riding, but racing ostriches is a reasonably common occurrence, and something people have been doing for some time.

“They’re Off!” - Thrills of the Turf in Ostrich Racing (Modern Mechanics, September, 1929)

I should really know better than to be surprised, being familiar, for instance with Rule 34 of the Internet. Ergo, there should also be some corollary: if some artist illustrates a whimsical and ill-advised behaviour, some person has tried it (and posted it to the Internet).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Satirical Diagrams

I just read that British artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle died, on December 30, 2011, at age 91. He produced an amazing body of work, in a distinctive (much-emulated) style. He could be very funny, but also made darkly satirical work on the human condition - this was attributed to his time in a brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp in Burma, during the second world war, which he managed to document in a clutch of 300 surviving drawings. Today, I thought I'd share something satirical and witty (rather than silly, or devastating): a series of diagrams, for the layperson of various professions. I can't resist the sort of taxonomic diagram.

You can find a huge collection of his work in the tribute blog Perpetua. Have a look.


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