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Preview: Exhibition - CultureLab

Exhibition - CultureLab

Updated: 2010-03-16T18:15:08Z


Window shopping for alternate realities


Walk by the Wellcome Trust headquarters and you might find yourself slipping into our technological future Louis Buckley, contributor Image: Wellcome Trust London's traffic-choked Euston Road is hardly the place for contemplating humanity's scientific and technological future. But, on a grey Sunday afternoon, sirens wailing at my back, I found myself peering into the windows of the Wellcome Trust's headquarters and asking, what if...? On the other side of the glass, a strange selection of objects, images and video. A headdress woven from hair, a colon cast in gold, faeces coloured red, yellow and green. These works, created by students and staff from the Royal College of Art, might sound eccentric, but they are all direct responses to recent scientific discoveries or emerging technologies. What if..., which was shown at Dublin's Science Gallery, features a range of works that use design to create alternate realities, challenging the viewer to imagine what could happen if science and technology were to follow a particular path. The first alternate reality to catch my eye was The Race, a project in which Michael Burton envisages humanity embracing the bacteria, viruses and parasites that live on and within our bodies. Instead of fighting a losing battling against drug resistant microbes, Burton's works suggests we could heed research showing the beneficial effects of many microbes, and modify our bodies to encourage their presence. Many of these modifications are nightmarish, but also strangely beautiful. I found an image of a hand with multiple, claw-like nails for accommodating soil bacteria particularly disturbing. Similar uneasy feelings were created by a straw mask through which the wearer was supposed to receive saliva-rich licks - and healthy doses of bacteria - from affectionate cows. Over in Daisy Ginsberg's Synthetic Kingdom, it is bacteria that are being transformed, not people. The burgeoning field of synthetic biology is where Ginsberg's interests lie, and she presents visions of the technology's potential benefits alongside some more worrying scenarios. Diagrams and illustrations show how manufacturing could be transformed, with microchips and biodegradable plastics grown by microbial factories. Fluorescent kidney stones and a golden colon hint at what might happen if engineered bacteria were to infect our bodies, with beautiful, if fatal, effects. Zoe Papadopolou and Cat Kramer take a different approach with their 'Cloud Project'. Photos and video tell the story of how they transformed an ice-cream van into a novel space for scientists to discuss the future possibilities of nanotechnology with hungry members of the public. The unusual link between ice cream and nanotechnology came from watching how ice cream can be made using liquid nitrogen, resulting in super-smooth ice cream with a nano-scale structure. Image: Wellcome Trust The exhibition, which presents work from six designers at the RCA's Design Interactions department, is the latest instalment in the Wellcome window displays, and will continue until January 2011, featuring work by several more designers. What if... is arguably the most thought provoking yet, both dystopic and witty, with the power to amuse and disturb in equal measure. Although often strange and unexpected, the work still feels plausible - indeed this is where its power lies - and it's evident that the designers are intent on asking serious social and ethical questions about what we do with new scientific knowledge. Such work will no doubt be welcomed by science communicators, policy makers and others who must grapple with the formidable challenges of discussing and making sense of the ethical complexity in our ever-changing scientific world. What If..., curated and designed by Dunne & Raby, is on display in the window of the Wellcome Trust headquarters at 215 Euston Road in London [...]

The mysterious case of the frogs' legs


Biological artist Brandon Ballengée takes strangely beautiful pictures of deformed frogs and toads. But just what is causing the deformities?

Jessica Griggs, Opinion editor


Image: Brandon Ballengee

In 1995, a group of schoolchildren from Minnesota discovered that half of the frogs they found in a pond were deformed. Some had bent, truncated legs, some had extra legs, while others had none at all. Photos of the frogs caught the attention of journalists, who blamed chemical pollution.

Since then, American artist Brandon Ballengée has found similarly deformed frogs and toads all over the world when working with the biologist Stanley Sessions from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York state. Ballengée documents their field trips photographically. He also brings back dead specimens, which he uses to create artistic images like this one of an extra-limbed Pacific treefrog from Aptos, California.

Ballengée says he's attracted to the frogs because he finds them uncanny, almost other-worldly. To heighten this effect, he stains the frogs with dyes that turn cartilage blue, bones red and flesh translucent. He then scans them using a high-resolution scanner to produce a detailed, ghostly image. "I wanted to find a way to exhibit what I was finding without being scary or exploitative."

So why are the frogs deformed? It turns out there is a natural explanation. Parasites burrowing into a developing tadpole's limb bud prompt the cells under attack to overcompensate when they divide, creating extra legs. There may also be a simple explanation for the missing legs: dragonfly larvae nibbling on the tender hind legs of the tadpoles. The limb tries to regenerate, but its success depends on the severity of the bite and the tadpole's stage of growth. So the high rate of deformity in that Minnesota pond could simply have been down to bad luck.

The Case of the Deviant Toad, commissioned by London-based science-art agency the Arts Calalyst, is on show at the Royal Institution in London through 31 March

Picture competition: Mathematical art


Transform simple equations into stunning images in this mathematical art competition Amanda Gefter, Books & Arts editor Harness your mathematical intuition and your artistic eye for a competition being held by the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge in collaboration with Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach. To enter, use the SURFER computer program to create beautiful images using simple mathematical equations. The idea is to create simple algebraic equations in 3 spatial coordinates and then, using the program, draw all the points that satisfy the equation. You can download the SURFER program from the competition's website and upload your images to their gallery. You can also create your mathematical artwork on site at the Imaginary: Through the eyes of mathematics exhibit, which is now on view for the first time in the UK at the Isaac Newton Institute as part of the 2010 Cambridge Science Festival. An exploration of art, algebra and geometry, the exhibit has on view stunning and interactive visualizations and installations from algebraic geometry. For example, the image above, known as a "Björling surface" and created by Matthias Weber and Sunflow, is a so-called minimal surface, a surface which has the same curvature features as soap films. In 1844, mathematician E. G. Björling figured out how to find the minimal surface that passes through a curve. The surface shown here is generated with the basic curve as a Helix along which the strip is twisted at constant speed. The above image, "Vis à Vis", created by Herwig Hauser, depicts two forms of algebraic geometry standing opposite each other. The singular tip on the left looks at a curved but smooth hill on the right. At the singularity, various changes to the equation can result in unpredictable changes to the figure, which does not happen at smooth points. The hecatonicosachoron above, also called the "120-cell", is the four-dimensional analogue of the three-dimensional dodecahedron, which has 12 pentagonal faces, 20 vertices and 30 edges. Each of the hecatonicosachoron's 120 "faces" is itself a three-dimensional dodecahedron. Created by Etienne Ghys und Jos Leys, it has 600 vertices and 1200 edges. The images in the exposition show the hecatonicosachoron drawn through stereographic projection from a sphere in four dimensions onto three-dimensional space. Imaginary: Through the eyes of mathematics is on exhibit at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, UK, through 17 March. The Cambridge SURFER picture competition entry deadline is 20 March. For more information, rules and tips , visit their website [...]

Einstein's masterpiece on display for the first time


A handwritten manuscript laying out the foundations of Einstein's theory of general relativity is finally available for public viewing Amanda Gefter, Books & Arts editor Albert Einstein's original handwritten manuscript, "The Foundations of General Relativity", is now on display for the first time in its entirety at Israel's Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem. The manuscript is on loan from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to which Einstein donated the paper in 1925. The paper lays out the logical and mathematical bases for Einstein's theory of general relativity, which explains that what we perceive as the force of gravity is really the curvature of spacetime. Einstein's goal had always been to rid physics of the Newtonian notion of an unobservable absolute space - a preferred coordinate system against which all motion could be measured. Instead, he believed that the laws of physics should remain valid in all coordinate systems, no one more privileged than the next. Special relativity, which preceded the general theory, accomplished this feat for uniformly moving coordinate systems by holding the speed of light constant in all reference frames and allowing space and time to wrinkle and stretch. The general theory, as outlined in the paper, allowed Einstein to tackle accelerated coordinate systems as well. By equating an accelerated reference frame with a uniform frame under the influence of gravity, Einstein was able to do away with the need for absolute space and ensure that all observers see the same universe. Einstein wrote the 46-page paper in 1916 - three years before Arthur Eddington observed the bending of starlight around the Sun during a solar eclipse, providing the first major confirmation of general relativity. The paper mentions the potential test of the theory, as well as its prediction for the perihelion of Mercury's orbit, which had, until general relativity, remained an anomaly. Einstein also commented in the paper that it remained "an open question whether the theory of the electromagnetic field in conjunction with that of the gravitational field furnishes a sufficient basis for the theory of matter or not." Writing in 1916 Einstein didn't yet know of the two other forces that would have to be taken into account - the weak and strong nuclear forces - but his question was profound and remains an open one today. Legions of physicists are trying to answer that very question, as they seek to unite general relativity with quantum mechanics in an ultimate "theory of everything". If you can't make it to Israel to check out the manuscript, it's worth reading the paper anyway, and you can find it online here. There's a particular thrill that comes from reading Einstein in his own words, with his unique philosophical style that is at times deceptively simple, full of useful thought experiments and always questioning even our most basic assumptions about reality. As physicist Stephen Hawking wrote in A Stubbornly Persistent Illusion (Perseus Books, 2008): "The most lucid, not to mention entertaining, proponent of Einstein's ideas has always been Einstein himself." Albert Einstein's handwritten manuscript The Foundations of General Relativity will be on display at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem through 25 March Image: Joe Kitsch [...]

Susanna Edwards: Science and art under the microscope


It's important to preserve old scientific craft even as we celebrate new technology, the artist says Louis Buckley, contributor Susanna Edwards is, by her own admission, an obsessive collector. The London-based artist has used found objects to trigger many creative projects, but the chance discovery of a collection of Victorian microscope slides set Edwards off in an unexpected direction.A new exhibition brings together work from her seven-year investigation into the history and craft of microscopy, inspired by the find. I spoke with Edwards about her work, which is on display at London's Hunterian Museum.Can you describe the work on show?The exhibition consists of a series of photographs I took of 19th century microscope slides, shot through different microscopes during a residency at the Science Museum in London. The slides are beautifully preserved and include all sorts of fantastic things - from frogs' blood to human muscle tissue. These are on display along with all the microscopes I used, which date from 1730 to the present day. My objective was to capture truth in image, to capture as closely as I could what my eye was seeing through each microscope. What first interested you about microscopy? It all started with the discovery of the slides in a second-hand shop. I was intrigued by the craftsmanship that went into making them and began to research the history of microscopy. The microscopes I worked with at the Science Museum, and in another residency at University College London, really excited me and connected with my love of photography - playing with ways of viewing and seeing and capturing imagery. Image: Susanna Edwards The subtitle of your exhibition is "The craft of microscopy". Did the project make you think differently about the role of craft in science? Yes, I really got a sense of how important these microscopes were in scientific discovery and exploration through the ages. I imagined who might have handled them and for what reasons. I also met experts in microscopy who have skills that are becoming obsolete. I felt compelled to capture these skills and present them to the public. I'm challenging the relevance of understanding craft to contemporary practice and technological progress. For example many universities get rid of craft forms to make way for new technologies. I feel it is important to understand and interact with the ancestors of the tools we use today, in order to progress in any field, be it science or art. Image: Susanna Edwards Are you concerned that traditional craft skills are being lost - in both art and science? My viewpoint is one of embracing the new but understanding the old. In arts education I have championed the preservation of craft-based activity alongside the teaching of new technologies. I feel that without craft, universities and student work are in danger of becoming devoid of soul and history. It's important to understand the evolution of the tools we use today. With my own practice I feel more at home handling objects and machinery that is obsolete. There is a satisfaction and craftsmanship that you just can't get with modern technologies. I feel intrigued by what is not on display in a museum, and the many hidden narratives behind the displays that are. You worked with many microscopes - do you have any favourites? I worked with ten microscopes in total, chosen to illustrate the evolution of microscope design. I love the Culpeper (1720-38) - it really is very old and so beautiful. But I enjoyed working with the Reichert (1960-65) the most in terms of actual use - it was smoother and easier to operate than the others. I've become very attached to all of the microscopes after spending so much time handling them. It's a shame I can't keep them. Image: David Stock Curious: The craft of microscopy by Susanna Edwards is on exhibit at the Hunterian Museum in London through 3 July 2010 [...]

Did Saddam Hussein model himself on Darth Vader?


Saddam had more than a little fascination with Darth Vader helmets, sci-fi fantasy and lightsabres, finds Jessica Griggs Jessica Griggs, opinion editorWas Darth Vader Saddam Hussein's ultimate hero?The answer may be lurking in the Tate Modern in London. Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz's exhibition The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own explores the surprising parallels between Saddam's regime and western science fiction through a series of hand-drawn cartoons and sculptural installations.You may have heard that when US troops stormed one of Saddam's palaces they stumbled across lurid posters by fantasy artist Rowena Morrill. But did you know that she's a close friend of Boris Vallejo, the artist who drew the iconic poster for The Empire Strikes Back depicting Darth Vader with two lightsabres crossed over his head?Does the poster's image sound familiar? It is remarkably similar to Saddam's Hands of Victory monument commemorating Iraq's victory over Iran. The arch in central Baghdad consists of two bronze casts of Saddam's forearms holding two 43-metre-long crossed steel swords melted down from the weapons of slain Iraqis; the helmets of vanquished Iranians litter the base of the hands. On inauguration day in 1989, Saddam rode through the arches on a white horse, declaring "The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own or to be forced down a path which is not willed by him".In Rakowitz's version the hands are covered in pages from a fantasy novel supposedly penned by the dictator, the swords are fashioned from children's toy lightsabres and the Iranian helmets are made of action figures cast in glue. Image: Michael Rakowitz, Victory Arch 2009, courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects Could this all be coincidence? Perhaps, but you'll be convinced otherwise once you've read about Saddam's private militia's uniform. Before his son, Uday, handed over control of the Fedayeen Sadaam (translation: "Saddam's Men of Sacrifice") to his younger brother he wanted to give his father something to remember his work by. So he presented Saddam with their new uniform: black shirt, black trousers and a ski-mask over which a strikingly Darth Vader-esque helmet was placed.Spot the difference: the military helmet is on the far right, next to Darth Vader's, a gas mask and a samurai's headdress. Image: Michael Rakowitz, The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own, 2009, courtesy of the artist and Lombard-Freid Projects All this is set against the background of the CIA coup which laid the path for Saddam's accession and the links between Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative, aka Star Wars, and Project Babylon, the never completed Iraqi space-gun.Wandering through the Tate gallery the ominous drone of the Imperial March, otherwise known as Darth Vader's Theme, gets in your head, making your heart beat a little faster as you peruse Rakowitz's cartoons. It's almost a relief when you come across the source - an old fashioned TV playing a video of a pre-war display of military strength set to the Star Wars tune, discovered on YouTube.Coming out of the show, I immediately thought that fun as this was, surely Rakowitz must have been putting us on. But a bit of digging shows that a surprising amount of it is true. Apparently Rakowitz, who describes himself as a cultural archaeologist, got the idea for the show while surfing eBay when he came across an American soldier auctioning what looked like Darth Vader's helmet.As well as proving the old chestnut, that truth is stranger than fiction, the show works because of Rakowitz's attention to detail. For example, the red and green lightsabres used in Rakowitz's arch echo the colours of the Iraqi flag. And the action figures embedded in the helmets are not any old toys - they're GI Joes - the toys relaunched in the 1980s off the back of the success of Star Wars acti[...]

Looking for art among the gadgets


Art-science gadgetry is great geek fun, but does it have artistic value? Kat Austen, Letters & Community editor Whirr! Click! Brightly coloured wheels, arms and pulleys gyrate, rotate and oscillate atop a converted milk float. The driver grins from within the cabin, staring out into the dingy covered car park. It heightens the sense of magic and incongruity elicited by this, the first sight that greeted me as I approached the Kinetica Art Fair at P3 in London last week. That was artists Ben Parry and Jacques Chauchat's Milk Float (pictured above), a five-metre high "sonic junk street machine" fashioned from a 1975 electric milk float, a comment on the absurdities of consumerism and modern life. It was one piece in the broad four-day exhibit of kinetic, robotic and high-tech art. Stepping inside the exhibition space was like walking into a magical toy shop. Beautifully balanced sculptures pivoted next to spinning gadgetry as a chair with eyes eerily moved of its own accord. One person gaped in wonder as a pair of spectacles dissociated and reformed in Tom Wilkinson's Square Dance, while another furiously shakes their head from side to side in an effort to decipher Chris Levine's light sculpture, Light is Love. Magical though it was, Kinetica didn't always do it for me. Some of the exhibits seemed to be yet another example of people playing with digital technology to make pictures, which to their credit were usually quite pretty. Some of the exhibits, while fun from a gadgetry point of view, failed to touch me in any artistic sense - my internal dialogue was not challenged, nor was I transported to a higher place by their beautiful aesthetics. One exception was the stunning sculpture Fandango by Peter Logan- an aluminium sculpture that uses solar power to rotate a spring, which in turn sets spinning the carefully weighted rods of which it is comprised. The specific movements in its dance are dictated by the frequency of the bursts of solar power to the spring. Another piece of particular note was Di Mainstone and Tim Murray-Browne's Serendiptichord, a wearable musical instrument that responds to the movement of the wearer. A collar fits around the neck and extends pendulously over the head and in front of the face. An additional two elliptical objects can be held or attached magnetically to other parts of the body, and accelerometers within the three components of the Serendiptichord detect the position of the wearer in a virtual soundscape that has been mapped onto the area surrounding them. Image: Deirdre McCarthy/Centre For Digital Music, Queen Mary, University of London The instrument is played by moving within the soundscape, tapping into the different sounds by position and the type of movement made. By linking music-making to whole-body movement, the device uses technology to cross boundaries between dance and music. On the interactive front, Cinimod Studio's Flutter, 100 tiny screens showing butterflies that respond to the movements of the observer, evoked thoughts of chaos theory and the delicacy of our interaction with nature. A far blunter installation that addressed this latter point was Ric Carvalho's Global Warming, a urinal that detects where the flow of pee - or bottled water in this installation - hits and uses it to trail a virtual spay path across a 3-dimensional globe shown on a screen at eye-level. In all, the art fair was a fun foray into kinetic art and contained some excellent pieces, but sometimes lacked the depth one might hope for from this artistic genre. Check out images from Kinetica Art Fair here [...]

ET escapes from Flatland


The "da Vinci of data", Edward Tufte, leaps into the third dimension with his large-scale sculptures Amanda Gefter, Books & Arts editor What happens when the "da Vinci of data" tackles large three-dimensional spaces? That's what I was hoping to find out this weekend when I visited the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, a wonderfully contemporary space nestled among the town's quaint, colonial architecture. There, in the museum garden, is Seeing Around, the first exhibition of large scale sculptures by Edward Tufte. Tufte, known to his fans as "ET", has achieved cult-like status for his work in data visualization (hence the New York Times "da Vinci" epithet). A statistician who taught political science, statistics and information design at Princeton and Yale, Tufte penned such classic texts as Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Graphics Press, 1983) and Envisioning Information (Graphics Press, 1990). Over the last decade, Tufte has leapt from his 2-dimensional world of charts, graphs and computer screens into the third dimension, creating 50 large-scale outdoor sculptures, many of which are on display at the Aldrich. My first impression of Tufte's sculptures is that they are - to use the technical art term - really big. Rocket Science #2 (Lunar Lander) (pictured in the photo above) is more than 21 meters long, 10 meters high and weighs about 50,000 pounds. The piece - which is made from scrap metal from a nuclear powerplant - had to be built at a concrete plant using huge cranes. The resulting form is an intriguing mix of ultra-modern and antique, conjuring thoughts of Galileo's telescope, futuristic weapons and space flight. Bigness, and plays on bigness, is central to Tufte's work. The enormous Skewed Machine (left), sculpted from a broken-down Caterpillar bulldozer that had rusted in a field for 25 years, seems to defy gravity, while a 4-meter high steel structure called Millstone weighs in at 11,000 pounds but can be somewhat easily rotated on its axis if you give it a good push. Tufte clearly thinks deeply about the way light hits his sculptures, and one gets the sense that his goal was to create a very big shadow. In fact, in some pieces I couldn't help wondering if the artwork was the structure or the shadow. Bouquet Series (right), a set of stainless steel pieces that each look like a cross between a flower and a knife, were constructed for the complex shadows they cast on themselves and on their surroundings. "Planted" among some shrubs in the garden, they stand as a kind of alien life form, interspersing nature's more amorphous shadows with straighter, starker lines. For me, the centerpiece of the exhibit was the aptly named Escaping Flatland (below) - a geometric landscape constructed of 10 stainless steel pieces. The work takes on different shapes as you walk around it, and Tufte used double-action grinders to etch tiny scratches in the stainless steel surfaces in order to produce anisotropic reflections - reflections that shift as you change your viewing angle by a few degrees. The idea is to capture sunlight (which Tufte calls "borrowed light") and its shadows in the most interesting way possible, so that the sculpture, which stands as a sort of monolith maze, acts as a luminous chameleon, taking on the qualities of its natural environment. For me, that meant a quiet tranquility, as I stood in the dusk light gazing at the structure in a garden thick with snow. I would like to see how the sculpture looks at other times of day and in different weather, its surface reflections and refractions constantly shifting with time. In that sense, it's really a four-dimensional piece. When I first heard that Tufte had a fine art exhibit, I assumed that his pieces would be about science, data and knowledge. And in a sense they are, but really they are about size, shape, light and s[...]

Carbon's dreamy ascent


A fantastical mural looks at humanity's fragmented understanding of the origin of life Kat Austen, Letters & Community editor In a vacant shop space in Camden, Central London, artists Becky Bolton and Louise Chappell, collectively known as Good Wives and Warriors have been painting day and night for a fortnight, covering the walls with a massive mural that explores the history of humanity's strange and varied ideas on life's origin, from Aristotelian spontaneous generation to Cairns-Smith's clay theory. The result is Buckminsterfullerene Dream, presented by London-based arts collective Space In Between. In the work, historic theories of life's origin combine with images based on Buckminster fullerenes, novel structures of carbon molecules reminiscent of architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. The shapes, also known as Buckyballs, encompass the ancient and the modern: carbon is the building block of all life as we know it, and fullerenes are a powerful tool in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. The theme of the 5 and 6-membered carbon rings found in Buckyballs repeats across the walls, but the complete structure is only realised in a sculpture suspended above a floor-mounted drawing of a "Primordial Play Pond" teeming with fantastical life. The sculpture uses black balls usually found in chemical models. Further representations of chemical modelling kits are incorporated in the wall paintings-- a delightful instance of imagery within imagery. The plastic atoms fly through the imaginary skyscape, fusing together to form benzene rings that are themselves disrupted by nebulous, biological growths that are alternately grotesque and beautiful to behold. Buckminsterfullerene Dream is the continuation of a series of work the artists have done based on the many origin of life theories that have been conceived of through history. In this new piece, Good Wives and Warriors bring their work firmly into the present day by throwing these various imageries together in a giant visual representation of the now familiar phenomenon of fast and dirty knowledge acquisition through "Googling" information. Less concerned with the details of the theories they illustrate than with the imagery evoked by this superficial level of understanding of them, the artists create a world where the logistics of scientific realism are sidestepped. The implausibility of the images, which stem from a superficial appreciation of their subject matter, is in stark contrast to the depth of scientific understanding necessary to come up with the theories and models that comprise the paintings. The end result is a pictorial representation of the incompleteness of our understanding when we rely on quick fixes of Wikipedia to answer our questions. If you can't make it to this exhibition, try catching more of the work of Good Wives and Warriors when they exhibit in Glasgow, London and New York later this year. Buckminster Fullerene Dream by Becky Bolton and Louise Chappell is presented by Space in Between and is on exhibit at 97-99 Clerkenwell Road in London through 5 February Images: Venetia Van Hoorn Alkema [...]

Art and science in motion


A new exhibition at the Estorick Collection in London traces the history of our understanding of motion Jessica Griggs, Opinion editor Image: Analysis of the Flight of a Seagull, 1887, Etienne-Jules Marey/Dépot du Collège de France, Musée Marey, Beaune, FranceSee more of the works on display in our gallery: Flash, whoosh, blur: how to represent movement You're probably doing it right now and so am I. I've just lifted a cup to my lips, am about to walk up the stairs to my bedroom and will later find myself running to catch an approaching bus. Without even thinking about it the muscles, tendons and ligaments in my body are working together, contracting and relaxing to propel me towards work or home or wherever else I need to go. These days the science of movement is an advanced discipline with 3D computer simulations, gait and shadow analysis able to examine the mechanics of our every move, but this wasn't always the case. The new exhibition at the Estorick Collection in London, On the Move: Visualising action, which opened last week, tells the story of how we learnt how we move. Curated by playwright, opera director and public intellectual Jonathan Miller, it's a fascinating tour-de-force of how the representation of movement developed in science and art, and the influence they had on one another.See more of the works on display in our gallery: Flash, whoosh, blur: how to represent movement In 1872 racehorse owner and ex-governor of California, Leland Stanford asked landscape photographer Eadweard Muybridge to bet on whether or not all four of a horse's hooves are off the ground any one moment whilst galloping. Muybridge rose to the challenge, taking a series of photographs of horses galloping. Using a row of cameras equipped with mechanically controlled shutters, triggered when the horse's hooves tripped an attached wire, he was able to freeze the action in a series of sequential frames. Lions, cockatoos and naked humans followed and with them Muybridges's scientific reputation increased with papers published in journals such as Le Nature. It is easy to see how the sequences of athletic men running with their muscles bulging must have been useful but the naked voluptuous women bending down to pick up a handkerchief seem rather gratuitous. Image: Dancing (Fancy), 1887, Eadweard Muybridge/Kingston Museum and Heritage Service Muybridge's work is seen as one of the first databases of human and animal locomotion used by both scientists and artists to help them depict motion accurately. But whilst Muybridge would sometimes doctor his photos if one came out blurry or missing, another 19th pioneer took a much more scientific approach. Medically trained, Etienne-Jules Marey was fascinated with the internal movements of the human body. He developed a new type of camera that could capture the individual phases of a subject moving through time and space on a single plate: 'chronophotographic' images. The extent to which the figures were separated or overlapped depended on the frequency with which the plate was exposed by the rotation of a slotted-disc shutter. In the 1880s Marey's work came to the attention of the French government, which thought that an extensive study of human locomotion might help to design exercises that would guarantee the fitness and endurance of its troops. So Marey established a physiological station with a series of blackened hangars where his subjects, dressed all in white, were photographed as they walked, ran, leapt and jumped. In the 20th century the essence of Marey's work was carried on by Harold Edgerton, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT. In the early 1930s, he took photos using a high-speed electronic flash to produce a strobe effect. Ranging from twenty to a million times a second, these flashes enabled Edgerton to[...]

Images of space-age dreams


Photographer Vincent Fournier takes us on an artistic journey through the retro-futuristic world of the space industry

David Stock, mutimedia researcher


In his latest exhibition, The Space Project, Brussels-based photographer Vincent Fournier takes us on a journey through the retro-futuristic world of the space industry.

Over four years of work Fournier has managed to gain access to some of the most important but often secretive facilities and institutions of the space age, including Russia's Yuri Gagarin cosmonaut training facility, the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana and NASA's Apollo control centre.

Fournier has used this access to reinterpret his topic with a sense of irony and aesthetic that has been compared to an "encounter with Jules Verne and Jacques Tati". Although the facilities and settings are real, the images are created to invoke something that is not there, a dreamy science-fiction world that highlights an "ambivalence between fantasy and reality".

Check out our gallery of images from The Space Project: Images of space-age dreams

The Space Project is on display at The London Art Fair until 17 January

Image: Vincent Fournier/The Space Project/Courtesy of The Steps Gallery,
London, UK

Chaos and the city


A Bangkok art exhibit explores the tension between order and chaos in city life

Kat Austen, Letters and Community editor

Hidden away among a bustling Thai marketplace on Chao Phraya riverbank is a rarity - a contemporary art gallery in Bangkok. Culturally famous for temples and markets, the city hides only a few exhibition spaces of this kind, and Gallery VER is a consistent and exciting one.

It is here that a new exhibition opened this weekend: Grid versus Chaos, curated by Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, aims to explore the "different possibilities of communication that the idea of grid offers, confronted to the notion of chaos in daily life in South Asia cities".


Image: Wei Leng Tay / Gallery VER

A series of anthropological portraits of life in Bangkok by Wei Leng Tay highlight the loneliness of living in a bustling metropolis, where living situations are often very cramped. The photo above highlights the loneliness and emptiness that arises from city-dwelling and the use of technological communication devices.

Her photographs also prompt questions about the consequences of ever-increasing population density, and whether these problems would be mitigated or exacerbated by projects such as Architecture for Humanity's 20-by-20-foot prefab homes.

Amy Cheung's installation explores the idea that validity in a city stems from the concept of usefulness in economic development, which amounts to assigning everything a numerical value. Cheung takes Oscar Wilde's story The Happy Prince as an example of this premise, stripping the prince down to a depiction of a nervous system, his eyes perpetually crying onto a miniaturised city below -- a metaphor for stripping the city down to its most fundamental parts, "the human body as a metaphorical site of a city's abstraction."


Image: Amy Cheung / Gallery VER

"If I can strip off the city's developmental outfit, the same way I delete the most obvious materials constituting the physical properties of being human... what is there to remain?" she asks.

The idea of the city as an organism is not new, but Cheung deftly combines these social science premises with literature and aesthetics to produce a moving installation.

These Hong Kong-based artists bring a unique insight into South-East Asian cities, and their similarities to Western cities. Of almost equal importance is the site of the exhibition at Gallery VER, which is ensconced in the kind of lonely bustle of a living city depicted by the works housed within.

The cosmos cycles on...


Visions of the Cosmos at New York's Rubin Museum of Art reminds us that modern cosmological ideas have been churning for centuries Saswato Das, contributor In the Grilandus Inventum, a beautifully-preserved handwritten Italian book from 1506-07 currently on display at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, there is a figure of a man surrounded by zodiacal signs. In his left hand, he holds an armillary sphere, a celestial sphere with the Earth at the center of the universe, in accord with pre-Copernican astronomy. Lines from the zodiacal signs connect to Zodiac Man's body parts. The lesson is clear: man is governed by the cosmos. The medieval manuscript depicting Zodiac Man is part of the Visions of the Cosmos exhibit, the Rubin's examination of the ways in which humans have conceived of their place in the universe over the centuries. Since antiquity, humans have pondered the meaning of the universe, crafting creation myths and cosmologies to explain the heavens: the seasonal change of the night sky, the movements of the planets, the beauty of the Milky Way. That the planets and constellations are somehow responsible for earthly affairs was a common theme to the cosmologies of many cultures. Visions of the Cosmos also depicts Hindu, Jain and Buddhist worldviews through carefully selected works including 18th century Tibetan Buddhist scrolls, loose leaf Jain manuscripts from the 16th century, black stone Hindu statues from the 11th and 12th centuries. Among the highlights are three small miniature watercolor paintings from the Pahari school of Indian art. They depict the fantastic Hindu myth of the gods and demons churning the ocean of milk at the dawn of time to produce amrita, the nectar which confers immortality. The gods and demons use the cosmic snake Vasuki as the churning rope and Mount Meru as the churning stick. Another beauty on exhibit is a 16th century cloth representation of Adhaidvipa, an island continent with Mount Meru as its center, which forms the basis of Jain cosmic geography. Looking through the exhibition, one is reminded that many of the concepts in modern astrophysics are not that new, at least in the broadest sense. Buddhists, for example, believed that at least a billion different world systems existed - a nice parallel to modern views of a multiverse. Also embedded in ancient eastern cosmologies was the concept of eternal, cyclical change - systems would rise, end, and begin anew over periods of cosmic time (kalpa in Sanskrit)--not unlike modern cosmological theories like the ekpyrotic universe. The curators have included images from modern cosmology to contrast ancient eastern worldviews to our current scientific understanding of the universe. It's a wise move. Who can say that the Crab Nebula, captured in glorious detail by the Hubble Space Telescope, or the star-forming regions in Orion's sword, imaged by terrestrial telescopes, do not rival some of the early depictions of the cosmos? Who is not struck by the backlit WMAP image of the nascent universe, just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, showing our cosmic horizon? For the student of science and its history, one of the exhibition's high points will surely be the Renaissance books on display in the section that traces the evolution of modern cosmology from medieval times. There is an edition of Galileo's Siderius Nuncius (The Starry Messenger), published in Venice exactly 400 years ago this year. Galileo had turned his telescope to the heavens in the fall of 1609. What he would see - and document first in Siderius Nuncius - would turn medieval astronomy on its head and anger the Catholic Church. Galileo first observed the moon, and saw that its surface was scarred with craters, mountains and valleys[...]

That inexplicable feeling of being 'you'


Does changing your hairstyle change who you are? How about losing your memory entirely? A new exhibition explores the slippery notion of identity Laura Spinney, contributor At the Wellcome Collection in London, a new exhibition tackles the ambiguities that lie at the heart of who we are and the ways in which science continuously morphs the meaning of identity. Identity consists of eight rooms devoted to nine lives (one room takes the subject of twins). The idea of the exhibition is to explore what Ken Arnold, the Wellcome Trust's Head of Public Programmes, describes as "the unfathomable gap between identification and identity" - the feeling we have that however sophisticated methods of identification become, they never quite capture the essence of us. Aspects of identity can be intimately captured in diaries, which is evident in the room dedicated to famed 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys. In the Pepys room you'll also find the diaries of Clive Wearing -- a musician whose encephalitis left him unable to form memories. His diaries record the endless series of fits and starts that mark a life confined to a perpetual Now. You can see his reaction to his own writings in this remarkable video. Another room focuses on the life of Claude Cahun, an artist who changed her identity more often than most of us change our minds. Hair was particularly fascinating to Cahun, because it provides the most immediate context for the face and so influences the way others see you. Looking at images of her with a shaven head and with her long brown locks fanning out on a pillow, I couldn't help thinking of a story my husband once told me, about the time he was sitting next to a woman at a dinner party. They were chatting away happily until he told her that he had a strange feeling they had met before. The good vibe immediately vanished and she informed him, stiffly, that he had been to a party at her house the week before. "How was I supposed to know?" he complained, "She had a new hairdo." The remaining rooms represent people including the actress Fiona Shaw, who recently had her brain scanned while reading different characters from a T.S. Eliot poem; DNA profiling pioneer Sir Alec Jeffreys; and three generations of twins from the Hinch family, one pair of whom were born three years apart. Identity is showing at the Wellcome Collection in London until 6 April, and a series of events on the same theme will culminate with the re-opening of the Who Am I? gallery at London's Science Museum in the summer of 2010 [...]

Prelude to the cyborg age


A new exhibit of digital art is a beautiful - and sometimes sinister - futuristic playground Kat Austen, Letters & Community editor There's no mistaking it: this is the digital age. Flashing monitors bombard us with advertisements as we walk down city streets, algorithms dictate the changing of traffic signals and calculate the most efficient permutations for the office elevators. Image: Weave Mirror by Daniel Rozin From the simplest code to intricate climate models, digital technologies have quantitatively and qualitatively changed the way we live. Now Decode: Digital Design Sensations explores the way they have changed the face of art. The exhibition, which opened at London's Victoria & Albert Museum yesterday, parses the catchall "digital" into three categories: "code", "interactivity" and "network". Much of the artwork is interactive, morphing the space into a futuristic playground. Here you can add yourself to a video montage in Ross Phillips's Videogrid, or use the motion of your body to splash paint of varying colours on the large screen of Mehmet Akten's Body Paint. Image: Body Paint by Mehmet Akten In fact, it's fair to say there is ample opportunity to indulge your every narcissistic tendency, not least in the outdoor installation Mirror Mirror. As you walk towards the museum's central pond, dozens of screens flicker to life to display black and white reflections of your approach. Each screen has its own camera, so every image shows a slightly different angle. Placed as it is in a placid pool, the installation juxtaposes progressive and primitive means of human self-regard. From the behaviour of most of my fellow observers, the novelty of the display is so engrossing that like Narcissus, some may not escape the pleasure of introspection. If the egocentric interactive works become too wearing, there are plenty of alternatives to amuse. The most beautiful must be Dandelion by Sennep and YOKE, which combines exquisite graphics of a dandelion clock with a hairdyer, with which you can accurately blow the seeds away. I couldn't help repeating to myself as I did: He loves me, he loves me not...Image: Dandelion by YOKE and Sennep Less wistful are the network exhibits; some are downright sinister. Most of us today have an online presence, a digital, virtual record of ourselves spread over servers across the globe. Here we are uncomfortably reminded that this information can be mined by computer programs, the data collated, used and visualised. We Feel Fine by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar collects data from any blog it encounters that contains the word "feel" or "feeling". The information can then be sorted according to accompanying data such as gender or location...even current weather conditions. To my mind that doesn't soften the rather scary message that people not only can find out all this information about you - they do. More subtle works are in the "code" section. Though not big hitters, they're worth more time and contemplation to appreciate their depth. The most visually delicious is the virtual sculpture Everyone Forever by Universal Everything. This rapidly changing totem really does try to encompass the world in its vibrant mashup of words and images. Image: We Feel Fine by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar Interactive digital art is not a new thing - Myron Krueger was using sensors and computers to harness audience interaction in his installations back in 1970s - but Decode provides a mixture of fun and depth that increases our understanding of the impact of the digital age on our lives. It is definitely worth a visit, but make sure you don't linger too much by the pond for fear of being turned into a flo[...]