Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Art and Science: Examples

Venus Dome
Michael Brown

The Mike Weiss Gallery, located in New York City, regularly sends me emails announcing exhibitions and recently sent an announcement of Schematics and Silhouettes, "Michael Brown's first solo exhibition with the gallery." Gazing at the above structure, among others, I was reminded of Buckminster Fuller's tensegrity icosahedrons, tetrahedrons, hemispheres, and spheres, and sure enough, some of Brown's "work envisions massive structures built into the landscape and recalls the synergetic work of Buckminster Fuller, perhaps embodying its own never-realized blueprint." Talk about being on the mark!

I therefore sent an email to the very person who introduced me to Fuller, my old friend Pete Hale (father of the famous Benjamin Hale), who is now a physicist, but even as a young teenager, he was already reading Fuller's impenetrable prose -- so block-full of nominalized phrases and clauses (even if Fuller himself did seem to be a verb) -- and was already understanding enough of Fuller's message to construct his own tensegrity models! In my email, I told him:
Thought this might interest you.
Soon replying, Pete wrote:
Thanks, it does indeed, thanks for sending the link. Very cool stuff.

I can't remember if I've run by you my recent sudden revisit (if "recent sudden" includes revisiting something I've not touched for about forty years!) of things tensegritive? You might recall those Bucky Fuller things I made back in the day made of wooden dowels and wire, right? Well, recently for no real reason I can figure, I suddenly found myself wanting to go back and build a "big" one. So, I did, a few weeks back. Some entertaining machining (the end caps), some dirt-cheap farmer's aluminum irrigation tubing (or piping, maybe more accurate; 2" OD x ~ 40" long) that probably weren't so cheap by the time I finished with them, some nice stainless eye bolts offa eBay, and some nice shiny wire from an old electric fence charger I used to have (don't ask), and voila, there you go! This is the "classic" icosahedron, though more properly actually a truncated tetrahedron, celebrated for its "simple as it gets" depiction of our good old three-dimensional world: two parallel struts per dimension, each mutually orthogonal. I love these things, I have to admit. So anyhow, now this one is sitting out on our patio, proudly taking up space.
I do indeed recall those early Bucky spheres, especially the fact that I accidentally broke one! Pete was describing how stable the spheres are, so I said, "Even if I smash it to the floor?" And I smashed it to the floor! Hah! Not so stable! As I said, an accident . . . Anyway, Pete supplied a photo of this "recent sudden" construction, so I asked permission to post it, to which Pete assented:
Sure, no problem using it however you'd like. I have some dim aspirations of upgrading the "tendons" to use super-strong, pliable multi-strand stainless steel aircraft control cable (actually quite inexpensive, and beautiful), which I think would get it to a point that it would be "viable" to bring to my little city's attention, with respect to a pretty serious outdoor art (sculpture) effort they have here (i.e., local art all up and down the Main Street of town; Lafayette's got a strong local art presence, etc.). Kind of tricky to work with though, so maybe here when I've got more time again, I hope. When you get all 24 of the tendons just right, and very tight, the entire thing globally "rings like a bell", which is a very cool effect. So anyhow, that's the latest on that thing.
Just as this blogpost promises: science and art! Like the music of the spheres! Here's the photo:

Pete Hale

Pete's right. These things are beautiful! Wonder how stable this big one is . . . But let's focus on the beauty of tensegrity structures, as Pete did when he showed a work of art recognized officially as art by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Leo Villareal's Bucky Ball:

Bucky Ball

I think the photo was taken by Pete himself, for he writes:
While digging this photo [of my Icosahedron] up, I happened upon another, of a stunning thing that sits outside at the really magnificent "Crystal Bridges" fine art museum in Bentonville AR (are you familiar with the place? When the question of just what those Waltons do with all that money comes up, all you got to do is tell them, "Well, this, for one" . . .). (Yeah, yeah, that, and worldwide hegemony, complete soulless destruction of the working class, etc. etc.) It is quite a marvel, if you're into such things . . .
I'm into looking at such things, and these reminded me of an earlier blogpost on Edgar Meyers, a retired scientist now into making large-scale molecular art! I sent a link to Pete, who got quite excited about the artwork:
Oh my, those ARE some marvelous things Meyers is creating there! Fantastic. It's also super-cool to see someone generate art like that using CNC [computer numerical control] techniques, I'll have to direct a number of CNC freak friends to that. (More than one of whom are constantly trying to talk me into going there, so far unsuccessfully . . . stinkin computers, I about get my fill of them, as it is . . .). I'll also have to see if my friend/partner Sammy Henderson (born in Delight AR, physics PhD TAMU about 1986 I believe) knows him.

His designs remind me strongly too of scanning tunneling microscopy [STM] images; a good few years ago I was crazy to build my own such instrument (which, amazingly, really can be done, with some care), but that one guttered out on me unfortunately. Tho, I do still have a small pile of stuff that I gathered up to do it. STM is the ground-breaking first-ever technique that permitted direct (well, as direct as quantum mechanics allows I suppose) imaging of individual atoms. I always figured it'd be mighty cool to gin that up at home, and look at atoms . . . !
For readers who missed the scientific art of Meyers, here's his website. Go there, admire, and encourage . . . if you're so inclined.

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At 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jeff,
I had one of Pete's "Bucky Fuller Things" in bright orange. It lived in my classroom until the last year that I taught school. It remained indestructible until a custodian accidentally dropped a computer tower on top of it!!
In other news, your family was here at my house for lunch. We had a delightful time. Your son does a perfect imitation of you, and he kept my dad, especially, in stitches. I was so focused on being hostess and enjoying everyone that I forgot to take pictures. However, your lovely wife took several so you will be able to relive their time with the Scotts and Olivers.
P.S. They had to read Milton when they were 6 years old?!! Alas, a dad tougher than Jim Scott!!

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If only my reputation were not so indestructible . . .

Sounds like I didn't even need to be there! But are you sure En-Uk wasn't just being En-Uk? He has inherited many of my bad habits -- such as mocking other people . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

--Again, catching up here! Jeanie, you should send that sucker in to the factory for repair or replacement--they're like fine German kitchen knives, life-time replacement policy!
--Jeff, thanks for the wonderful synopsis of our latest discussion. Yeah, I love those things, I have to admit. Your memory of accidently bashing one to death is funny; we had a July 4 party soon after I finished this big (~ 4.5' tall) one, and among the attendees were lots of beer-drinking experimental physicists. One of them stood drinking beer and talking away, while leaning, and leaning, and leaning on the poor tensegrity; until, of course, a tendon let loose and the whole thing (including drunk physicist friend) collapsed! Ah well, in that setting, it just made for a lot of marveling over the nature of the collapse, necessary stresses involved, etc. It's back in business now, at any rate.

That is fantastic that your kids have had such a fine time in NCArk, right on!

At 4:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Any report of a tensegrity breakdown can only be false since we have Bucky's word that these things are indestructible.

The problem is that we live in a world of appearances, one in which they appear to break down under the forces of entropy despite being anti-entropic creations . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do seem to be doomed, or maybe it's privileged, to be forever swimming upstream against nature, for sure...

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Perhaps literature's most poignant line ever . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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