Friday, June 29, 2012

NaCl in Architecture and Song

I recently saw a building inspired by the chemistry of salt (The Fox Is Black). Architect David Jameson designed the NaCl House of Bethesda, Maryland, USA, to be white with a crystal-like structure mimicking mineral rock salt. While the lines are as rectilinear as most buildings, the varying scales, like a natural crystal, are unexpected and beautiful.

Crystals seem to be omnipresent in a lot of popular art and culture, but I had not previously seen their influence on architectural design (at least not in such an obvious and direct fashion).
When I was searching more more information about this, I found the proposal by Faulders Studio for the GEOtube Building for Dubai, which would be able to grow and expand, as it features a self-built exoskeleton made from accumulated sea salt deposits. Built of a structure of 'vascular pipes', the mesh around the building would employ solar power to pump salt water from its pond (which in turn would be pumped the 4.6 km from the high salinity Persian Gulf) to the roof, and then down through the vascular pipes (driven by gravity). The salt water would be misted from the pipes and salt would accrue on the mesh through evaporation (as shown in the images of meshes above). The water there is so salty that the building's transparent skin would rapidly take on a new crystalline appearance. After 15 to 20 years, the architects predict the skin would be opaque; then the salt could be harvested, and one presumes, the process begun anew. This strikes me as an innovative way to let the extremes of the local environment actually serve to benefit of, and to some degree, build the edifice. (&web urbanist)

What brought this to mind today, was actually CBC radio, who were playing a tribute concert to the late Kate McGarrigle. It included a cover of her composition, 'The Salt Song' by Jane Siberry, who called it a frighteningly honest love song. Here, I've found Kate and her sister Anna's own version for you. I find it delightful, happy yet bittersweet, though not salty, and effortlessly accurate.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Felt & Food Geology

I love the photos of Vancouver-based Canadian-Hungarian artist Eszter Burghardt, who has used wool and lights to create volcanic environments, fjords, and glaciers or food to make land and seascapes.


WOOLY MAGMA, 2010 Inkjet Print 12.25" x 12.25" Edition of 7

FJORD OF WOOL, Archival Print 12.25" x 16.5" Framed, Edition of 7 (limited edition prints available here)

WOOLY ICE, 2010 Inkjet Print 12.25" x 16.5" Edition of 7


SWALLOWED VISTA, 2010 Inkjet Print 12.25" x 16.5" Edition of 7

LAVA CAKE, 2010 Inkjet Print 12.25" x 16.5" Edition of 7

LAVA FOR DESSERT, 2010 Inkjet Print 12.25" x 16.5" Edition of 7

It's not often I see felting or baking about science. She mentions her residency in Iceland. I think you can see the influence of the dramatic landscapes and geology of the world's youngest, growing baby of a continent, on her work. Colossal

Friday, June 22, 2012

Alan Turing Centenary

'Alan Turing'
Artist: Stephen Kettle
Title: Alan Turing
Material: stacked slate
photo: Leo Reynolds
Bletchley Park National Codes Centre
Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954), mathematician, cryptanalyst, computer scientist, prophet and hero, would have been 100 today. He is someone I would like to portray, but I have been stumped. My scientists are shown with images of something quintessential to their science, or the reason they are famous (or should be), but Turing had so many accomplishments, it isn't obvious what to portray or how. You might recall his portrayal in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I was introduced to him many year ago by Douglas Hofstadter's  Gödel, Escher, Bach (which I can't recommend highly enough... go read it now). You may be familiar with the Turing Test or at least its portrayal in Blade Runner. Turing foresaw not only that machines might quite likely develop the capacity to think (after all, our brains are only made of matter, and complex systems of neurons, which either fire or not, much like an electronic switch), but that we needed an objective, double-blind test to determine whether something/someone was able to think, as early as 1950, when most people were only dimly aware of the existence of any sort of computer. But Turing quite literally defined what we now mean by computation itself (with his concept of Turing Machines) back in 1936. During the WWII he worked as a codebreaker and invented the device which was finally able to crack the notorious German crypotographic Enigma machine! His work undoubtedly saved many lives, and today we recognize him as a genius and a hero. During his all too short life, he also made important contributions to mathematical biology and explaining morphogenesis (the biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape) and the existence of Fibonacci numbers in biology. 

Tragically, he lived in a time even more biased and bigoted than our own. Rather than recognizing the magnitude of his contributions to society during his lifetime, he was prosecuted for his homosexuality (still illegal in Britain in 1952) and forced to undergo chemical castration. He died two years later, after eating a cyanide-poisoned apple (determined by the coroner to be a suicide). It is truly abominable they way he was treated; while we can't address the past injustice we can remember, recognize and celebrate his remarkable achievements today.

Check out this Turing Machine built from LEGO, in honour of the 2012 Turing Year!

(via Brain Pickings, which also has an interesting article about Turing) 

This beautiful paper Turing Machine, by The Real M Davey employs a microcontroller and some electronics, but it is really the paper itself which is the computer (as the "tape" is described in Turing's original paper:

My goal in building this project was to create a machine that embodied the classic look and feel of the machine presented in Turing’s paper. I wanted to build a machine that would be immediately recognizable as a Turing machine to someone familiar with Turing’s work. Although this Turing machine is controlled by a Parallax Propeller microcontroller, its operation while running is based only on a set of state transformations loaded from an SD card and what is written to and read from the tape. While it may seem as if the tape is merely the input and output of the machine, it is not! Nor is the tape just the memory of the machine. In a way the tape is the computer. As the symbols on the tape are manipulated by simple rules, the computing happens. The output is really more of an artifact of the machine using the tape as the computer.
( Adafruit blog)

You can also learn how to make a papercraft Enigma machine on MAKE.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ceramic Might-Have-Beens

British ceramicist Sophie Woodrow knows that the Victorian fascination with nature (though it was firmly defined as 'other' than human), collecting and romanticizing nature in a way which was ultimately kitsch is a great place to seek ideas and inspiration. Though most Victorian science was of the 'descriptive' sort, I know I find their romantic and sometimes heroic collecting an inspiration myself; it is definitely a class of activity at the fertile intersection of art and science, like the building of wunderkammers (Cabinets of Curiosity), gathering everything from rocks, to ferns, to fossils, to exotic animal species from around the world. I love how she describes the Victorian "enormous misinterpretations of geological evidence" (particularly of biological evolution) as "a game of Chinese whispers1 played over millennia". She's been inspired by natural history, and our changing ideas about evolution, to create a growing collection of ceramic "might-have-beens". This makes me think of the Rhinogrades, the wonderous "might-have-evolved" creatures of Harald Stümpke [Gerolf Steiner]. Her imaginary-animal pots are likewise truly wonderful.

Bear (41 cm height)

Totem (39 cm height)

 Little Owl

 Crowd Scene

Here she speaks about her process:

 Be sure to check out both her recent work and archive!

Lou Lou & Oscar

 1 "Chinese whispers" is the British name for what North Americans call the game of "broken telephone" where a message passed by whispers from person to person, mutating as it travels along.


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