2012 Next Big Idea Science and Math Art Competition, Grand Prize Winner!

I’m delighted to say that I have won First Prize at the 2012 Next Big Idea Science and Math Competition held at Los Alamos! I was also very pleased to win another prize for Visual Interest & Impact Judges Choice Recognition. Very many thanks to everyone who supported my work. It was a great contest, requiring some explanatory writing to accompany the images which I really enjoyed. My two images ‘A part thereof’ and ‘Fly by light’ are posted below. ‘A part thereof’ was created at Exeter Uni Fluids Lab earlier this year – read about it below. ‘Fly by Light’ was created at home.

Click on these links for details of the competition on Facebook and at the Next Big Idea Festival website


‘A part thereof’

‘A part thereof’ is an image which I created at Exeter University Fluids Lab, where I’m just completing a year as Artist-in residence funded by the Leverhulme Trust. A record of my work at the Lab can be found here in my journal pages. This image captures the eye because it has echoes of organic forms, yet it is clearly not a picture of a life-form. From the way it undulates and from the leg-like protrusions from the ‘body’, it looks as if it could be part of an exotic giant caterpillar, and yet we know nothing like this could actually exist in nature. The ‘legs’ could also be the bifurcating stems of plants; there is ambiguity in the form. The form is real and yet not real – that too is an ambiguous aspect; and ambiguity will always catch the imagination.

This image is a way of ‘joining the dots’ between forms created in fluid dynamics and forms found in the living world. I believe there is a universal language of patterning that can be expressed in terms of fluid flow, and which echoes what we see around us. The title ‘A part thereof’ refers to the image showing part of the whole large caterpillar-like structure. In addition, the title refers to the fact that this kind of patterning is part of a larger, more universal story. The scientific principle behind this image is that this form exists because it has evolved in this way – its shape is a record of its own creation. Watching the patterns develop reminded me of the theories expounded by D’Arcy Thompson in his book ‘On Growth and Form’. The process here depends on the different viscosities of ink/water in combination with viscous milk. Ink/water is placed on a smooth surface, and the milk is added. The ink and water make ‘inroads’ into the surface of the retracting milk, causing the kind of patterning we see in this image. This is a gradual process during which we see the form ‘evolving’ – this image is taken a few minutes after the start of the process. You can see examples of the process in a recent collaborative video,


‘Fly by light’

‘Fly by light’, with its interwoven ribbons folding over and under each other, is reminiscent of an organic form floating across space. If we follow the ribbons as they move in front and behind each other, they appear to do so in a way that is not physically possible – as if they occupy an ‘impossible’ space governed by more than three dimensions. This ‘impossibility’ captures the attention in the same way that an optical illusion would. The linear complexity and the ever-changing colors both cause our eye to move across the image, always seeing something new. The image is original and innovative because it shows something that we cannot see with the naked eye; it can only be seen with the camera. It captures an ephemeral quality, moving beyond concrete form – here towards a unique expression of light and movement. In the picture there is no evidence of the glass used; only the shapes which it produces when combined with light. Without light and the digital camera, this image would not exist; it is ephemeral, yet tangible at the same time – and in this sense it is inextricably linked with its surroundings. Iridescent glass is allowed to reflect upon a bumpy glass surface, where it splits into different colors and produces a series of caustics – envelopes of the light echoing the uneven forms of the glass. The ribbons and shapes in these images are diffraction artifacts which stretch in different ways according to the glass surface. The shapes always have a set of parallel lines at their edges, (like the typical octagonal lens flare shape). The resulting shapes and patterns are therefore a combination of light, glass and an inner view of the digital camera. They shift and change according to angle and light.

New ‘Hubble’ pictures

We did a lot of work yesterday at Exeter Uni on the new sculpture ‘Hubble Bubble’ which is being created for my end-of-year exhibition. By the end of the day it was running really well, and now needs some fine adjustments. Here are two images from it, both showing a Pelton wheel.


Spin Driven Thing


Pelton in coloured light

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