In this article Rachel Lebowitz, makes a strong debate for historical artists who are also scientific innovators. This article details the contributions of these well known contributors to these two worlds.
“THE GREATEST SCIENTISTS are artists as well,” said Albert Einstein.
“For as long as artistic expression has existed, it has benefited from interplay with scientific principles – be it experimentation with new materials or the discovery of techniques to render different perspectives. Likewise, art has long contributed to the work and communication of science.”
This piece is a nice summation of the contemporary focus of artists working with science. Here are four that make art scientific fascinating.
The Miami New Media Festival is a public art platform, which aims to promote video, film, and performance, among a broad audience. MNMF was founded in Miami Florida in 2006, and happen every year during Fall season. With various art activities such as video screenings, video mapping, audio-visual live performances, workshops, exhibitions, and lectures, MNMF offers a new possibility of public art.
This festival encourages public participation of artists’ 15 years old and older, with no nationality or residency restrictions. The MNMF is open to all audiences, artists, art students, scholars, academic institutions, curators, collectors, institutions and companies, as well as all members of the community.
Open from October-December 2019
China Blue’s multidisciplinary installation Cassini’s Dreams (2019) is a remarkable visual arts and sound project that is partly scientific and partly poetic. Intrigued by sound as a medium that is still underexplored, she has undoubtedly been influenced by the experimentation of early avant-gardists such as John Cage, as had many subsequent artists. For China Blue, however, it was the experimental composer and electronic music pioneer Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) whom the artist felt closer to. Today, sound is increasingly evident in a range of creative practices, no longer outside the mainstream, as artists, ever more expansive in their points of view, strive to realize works that shatter former boundaries across the spectrum of cultural production. As technological innovations are added to the mix to become more and more immersive, the results are perhaps the most complete examples of the Gesamtkunstwerk to date.
China Blue, a pioneer in her own right, has made sound art works for over two decades. She widened the scope of her investigations when she received two NASA/RI Space Grants a few years ago. Her husband, Seth Horowitz, is a neuroscientist whose expertise also includes acoustics, robotics, data actualization, and more. Through intensive, exhilarating conversations with him about his research, she was further inspired to push her projects involving “hidden acoustics” towards the more scientifically oriented, in particular toward data sonification as a way to identify space and place—without foregoing the imaginative, the intuitive.
She became riveted by the exploration of Saturn and its icy moons jointly undertaken by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency, called the Cassini-Huygens mission. NASA had developed a robotic spacecraft for the Saturn mission that it named Cassini, after Giovanni Domenico Cassini, a French Italian astronomer who discovered four of Saturn’s moons in the 17th century. (Huygens was a probe to explore Titan, one of Saturn’s great moons, created by the European Space Agency and named after Christiaan Huygens, a 17th century Dutch astronomer who discovered Titan). Cassini, the size of a mini-bus, was sent to learn more about Saturn and its multiple moons and magnificent rings (which in actuality is more of an annulated disk of varying densities and brilliance, with thousands of narrow gaps and ringlets). It was designed to last roughly four years upon reaching its goal but it far exceeded its expiration date (like the prodigious twin spacecraft Voyager 1 and 2). It took Cassini seven years to reach Saturn and then orbited the planet for 13 years. During the spacecraft’s hundreds of flybys over Saturn, it took nearly half a million images that it sent back to Earth, a billion miles away, providing a trove of unexpected information as well as breathtaking images of that most spectacularly beautiful of planets, correcting misconceptions, resolving former mysteries and changing the way we think about the solar system.
In the very last phase of its mission, Cassini angled through the gap between Saturn and the planet’s innermost ring, providing extraordinarily clear views of the rings and the planet itself before ultimately plunging downward toward it like a dazzling, spent star. As planned, it disintegrated in Saturn’s atmosphere to end its journey on September 15, 2017, 20 years later, mourned by many.
Always speculative, China Blue asked herself, in thinking about the mission, how Saturn’s rings might sound (as she had asked herself how the Eiffel Tower might sound, among other sites and objects not usually thought of acoustically, as “instruments”), a query that resulted in a riveting 11-track CD called Cassini’s Dreams (2018), made in collaboration with Horowitz and composer Lance T. Massey. At the edges of human perceptual faculties and beyond, she likens “listening to the unheard with seeing the unseen. It brings areas outside of human range into a field that we can comprehend.” When asked what the source of the data she used was, the artist explained it came from the rings themselves, from data sent back from Cassini that was correlated and converted into sound by means of a complex and novel method. The rings are made primarily of water ice and small particles of rock, and as these materials streamed around the periphery of the planet, they have the potential to collide. Caught in the gravity field of the planet, each particle has its own motion, its own events, as waves of movement rippled through the planet’s rings and billions of particles. Over time, the sound field that is produced changes; “it isn’t a fixed keyboard,” the artist said.
So, truly music from space (with titles such as Cassini’s Dreams, Cloudboarding, Saturn Remains), the data was extracted, consolidated and translated into pings and pongs, whirrs and clicks of different tones, frequencies and duration, the sound clipped, brushed, floated, reverberating, the superfluous noise edited out to create a haunting soundscape of a specific place in space and time. The resulting tracks have an eerie, ethereal, echoing beauty and their own hypnotic lyricism. The compositions recall Brian Eno’s space music from the 1980s, his inspired by the Apollo 11 landing but, unlike Cassini’s tracks, not based on actual data.
The visual elements of the installation are centered upon a large suspended model of Saturn in a dark gallery hung with some paintings of Saturn’s rings, executed in infrared colors. A 3-D model of Cassini housing a laser to simulate the passage of the actual spacecraft around the planet is another element. The technology used is a laser-to-sound conversion in which the image captured by the laser is transformed into sound (the same method she used to discover the sounds of Saturn’s rings). The imagery of the rings is transformed into sound in real time, and mixed with the audio from Cassini’s Dreams, the CD, adapted for the installation, the sound projected through speakers.
I thought of David Byrne’s project, Playing the Building, conceived in 2005 but presented in different iterations since then, predicated on the architecture of the selected construction as the instrument. In Cassini’s Dreams, China Blue might be said to play the universe–or perhaps beyond—composing a song about origins, evolution and ultimate destiny.
Lilly Wei is a New York-based independent curator, writer, journalist and critic whose area of interest is global contemporary art and emerging art and artists, reporting frequently on international exhibitions and biennials. She has written for dozens of publications here and abroad and is a longtime contributor to Art in America and a contributing editor at ARTnews. She is the author of numerous artists’ catalogues and monographs and has curated exhibitions in the United States, Europe and Asia. Wei lectures frequently on critical and curatorial practices and sits on the board of several non-profit art institutions and organizations including AICA/USA (the International Association of Art Critics), Bowery Arts & Sciences, and Art Omi International. She was a former board member of Art in General, and is a fellow of the CUE Foundation. Wei was born in Chengdu, China and has an MA in art history from Columbia University, New York.
In the early 2000, I met China Blue in New York and heard her speaking about sculpture in ways I had not considered sculpture previously. As a former student, at Hunter College, of minimal and post-minimal sculptor Robert Morris, China Blue had developed an attention to space, and more specifically to the space surrounding sculpture; more than to the sculpture or the object itself. How was that space shaped by an object? How was the viewer’s impacted by that relationship?
At the time, also, China Blue spoke about negative and odd physical spaces that could be fixed and how to improve our relationship with them. She started developing an artistic Feng Shui, which broadly inspired by her Chinese background, could correct inhabited spaces, exhibition spaces among others, and heal viewers. From that angle, China Blue expanded her investigations, from object and space, to sounds, and started asking: how does sound look like? And how can sound shape spaces and viewer’s experiences?
Intrigued, in 2004, I invited China Blue to work on two solo-exhibitions of her work simultaneously at l’Atheneum and Interface in Dijon, France. At Interface—an alternative art space run by former art students from the National Beaux-Art School—, she presented among other works, Mikey vs Fabio (2004), a sound piece based on the recording of a table tennis game. Mikey vs Fabio spatialized and somewhat materialized, through a surround sound system, the impact sounds of an invisible ping pong ball on the walls of a totally empty space; animating it. The space where the piece was located was a passage, a rather narrow corridor rarely used by other artists who had presented works at Interface—not only because it would not fit the scale of most works to allow a comfortable viewing experience, but also because it did not even feel appropriate for a viewer’s pause; yet, this space, also appropriately reminded of the proportions of a ping pong table. There, like in many other spaces and corners at Interface—a beautiful Victorian-style private apartment in the city historical center of Dijon—, China Blue created pretexts for stops, allowing her sound works to guide the discovery of the physicality and specificities of the architectural spaces.
At l’Atheneum—Bourgogne University Cultural Center for students, located in a modern concrete building on campus, in the outskirts of the city center—, China Blue also tackled the difficulties presented by another space of passage: the exhibition space itself. The exhibition room had been intentionally, but unfortunately, positioned between the building entrances (where was there was also the student’s bar) and the computer room; in order to encourage (or oblige) students to see art on their way from the bar to the computers. To combat the inefficient dynamics of the art space, China Blue built a large structure at the center of the exhibition room that literally interrupted the students’ path. The construction was made of two pairs of interrupted walls, creating doors at each corner. Then, using sound of wind chimes, warm orange-yellowish paint and neon lights, as well as comfortable seats, she created within these walls an inviting space for students’ relaxation. Those visitors who instead decided to challenge the artist’s invitation for a pause, and ventured around the walls, saw drawings based on the room floor plans. These were populated with lines and arrows, suggesting movements and rhythms, materializing the circulation of sounds and energy inevitably surrounding them; whether they were aware of them or not.
In Dijon, not only did the individual pieces focus on creating connections with the viewer (and, beyond, with the larger environment surrounding the viewer), but the entire project titled Fluid Paths also intended to force connections—some formal, aural, some structural or relational—, also between both spaces. Even if l’Atheneum and Interface shared an overall common goal of promoting contemporary art, they were doing so with very different staff, audience, purpose, means, and ultimately philosophies. Throughout time, I understood that China Blue’s work would bring together what seems disjointed, even sometimes irrelevant, as long as they could complement and improve one another.
In reverse, China Blue has also engaged in her more recent works with entropic and maybe necrotic prognoses and dynamics. With her interactive sound-light installations Fireflies Project (2011), Fireflies Grove (2012-15), and 8 Bit Crickets (2013), she collides nature, man, and culture. She presents in these installation hordes of small electronic insects, equipped with motion sensors, reacting by blinking and chirping to the presence of an audience, and variably depending on the quantity and position of it. Sometimes also, the viewer would activate the simulated insect colonies with flashlights. Here, China Blue shows a denatured relationship in the form of a playful, but senseless, and unproductive communication. She is right to insist that man, technology, and nature co-exist and are interconnected in invisible ways; and we are all aware as well how nature is currently suffering from mother earth’s abusive exploitation, resulting in an increasingly unbalanced eco-system shortly frightening just everything as we have known it.
China Blue’s latest endeavors have brought her to expand her field of artistic practice, beyond earth’s ground and man’s life experiences, to larger unheard aural phenomena. For example, in 2007, she captured the energy of Paris by recording the sonic vibrations of the metallic structure of the Eiffel tower. Or similarly, in 2009, when she recorded NASA’s Vertical Gun—conceived to simulate meteorite impacts in deep space. Cassini’s Dreams—comprised of a sound piece installation and of paintings, which is currently presented at the Venice Biennale (2019)— is from this same body of work. The sound piece results from the sonification of the latest high-resolution images taken by Cassini of planet Saturn’s rings, combined with an audio piece. It also includes sounds from propellers, dusts, and ice, as China Blue specifies; in order to direct our attention onto the details and anomalies of some of the largest and most mysterious invisible astral events that surrounding us. If another proof is needed, consider her paintings (also on display at the Venice Biennale) which, based on Saturn’s rings, are made in infrared color spectrum. “The infrared range is a field that humans cannot see but exists everywhere” she explains.
Beyond objecthood and what is visible or accessible to us, up to the eternal void of the entire universe, there is much to hear and to understand, as China Blue demonstrates. In her negentropic world, nothing is still nor silent, the void is filled with the sounds of incommensurable invisible forces that can be heard by those who listen to them.
New York, April 6th, 2019
Stéphanie Jeanjean is an art historian, expert in modern and contemporary European art and a curator. Her research investigates the history and the institutionalization of video art and the projected image, informed by feminist militant video and sociological art and more recently relational and new media contemporary art.
She teaches Art History at The CUNY Graduate Center, Cooper Union as well as and at Sotheby’s Institute in New York. She has spoken on these topics in international conferences located in France, USA (CAA), UK (Tate Britain), and South Korea (KAIST). She is also a regular speaker, as Gallery Educator, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. As an expert in modern and contemporary European art, she lectures for the Smithsonian Journeys in France, London and in Switzerland.
Her work has been published in Afterall, London and Cinema in the Expanded Field (Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2016) and at The Engine Institute. She curated a project screening of early French video at The Kitchen in New York (summer 2012).
She co-founded Hors d’œuvre: le journal de l’art contemporain and worked at the contemporary art center Le Consortium and for the publisher Les presses du réel, in Dijon. She has developed a book series dedicated to new scholarship on modern and contemporary art, artists’ writings and archives, as well as translations of original texts into English for Les presses du réel, in Dijon.
She holds a MA from Bourgogne University, France, and a PhD from the Graduate Center of CUNY, The City University of New York.
The inspiration for this work was the wonderful chiming watches that they discovered while touring the Swiss watch factory Audemars Piguet, commissioners of the project. This experience made them to realized that they could make a “big chiming time sculpture.”
Their site-specific work titled HALO, is in the form of a 13-foot tall and 33-foot-wide cylinder that converts subatomic data into a visual and aural work producing an acoustic manifestation of particles colliding.
“Altered States” an exploration of the substances in society through science and art
The Kunstpalais presents in Erlangen (Germany), an international group exhibition called “Altered States. Substances in Contemporary Art” which features artists who approach the topic of substances in a variety of media.
Artists: Daniel García Andújar, Cassils, Rodney Graham, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Carsten Höller, Joachim Koester, Mary Maggic, Joanna Rajkowska, Thomas Rentmeister, Marten Schech, Jeremy Shaw and Suzanne Trieste.
Through May 21st.
Although this article in Forbes is a few years old Dave Featherstone, Professor of Biology and Neuroscience gets to the point. About scientists and artists, he says “I think the motivations and goals are fundamentally the same.” He points out that science and art change how we perceive our world by changing our truths. Stating Art=Science.
“The brain accepts what the eyes see and our eye looks for whatever the brain wants.”
The Brain’s Eyes is a selection of works created by China Blue, during her two-year Artist-in-Residence at the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute at Rhode Island Hospital.
This exhibition is an art-neuroscience exploration of the concept that that there is no place in the human brain that does not respond to visual stimuli. Humans are visual creatures, with our eyes as the Continue reading
Richard Humann’s “Ascension” (addendum) is a fascinating exploration of augmented reality and an introduction of new constellations in Venice’s night sky. This work will be presented at OPEN 20 International Exhibition of Sculpture and Installation opening on Friday, September 1st in Venice, Italy. “Ascension” (addendum) which opened at this year’s Venice Biennale and will be exhibited on the Lido throughout the OPEN 20 show, as well as Giudecca on opening night at the Hilton Molino. Along with many great artists, the exhibition also includes: Yoko Ono, ORLAN, Resi Girardello, and Amin Gulgee. OPEN 20 is held in conjunction with the Venice Film Festival. This new work is curated by Elga Wimmer and sponsored by Membit with Jay Van Buren. OPEN 20 is organized by Arte Communications. Continue reading