The Arc of a Wave: Wavelength’s Aesthetic Reach By Tom McGlynn

A wavelength can be alternatively defined as the distance between successive crests of a wave and a person’s way of thinking in relation to others.  The empirical, in other words, can have its analogy in the associative.  It’s probably not a coincidence that a colloquialism like “You happen to be on my wavelength” grows out of a real scientific phenomenon.  One could even argue that any “phenomenology of the spirit”[1] takes as its direct model the science of physics. At a point relatively not too distant in human history, the scientific, as a matter of fact, was integrally connected to philosophies of living. There was seen no separation between the empirical and a notion of the metaphysical. In the pre-scientific era mythical figures in alchemy such as Hermes Trismegistus were endowed with a demiurge’s creative power to divine and unify the distance between the physical and the spiritual worlds.  This personified analogy of a creator of worlds in harmonious dialectic with one another was the ostensible basis for GWF Hegel to found his notion of dialectical philosophy upon.  Much of this lineage of course gets lost in the more contemporary separation between science and art.  In this opposition science is typically seen as the product of rational, empirically- derived proofs while art is often relegated to a position of an optional, recreational theoretic.  There have been attempts to reconcile these differences by creating contexts for contemporary artists to interact such as Experiments in Art and Technology founded in 1966 by Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, then scientists for Bell Labs together with the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. This effort was no doubt fueled by a sense of syncretic utopianism that characterized the early Sixties with visionary exemplars ranging from Buckminster Fuller to Marshal McLuhan, John Cage to Yvonne Rainer. More contemporary efforts to conflate the realms or art and science exist in such organizations as SciArt whose stated goal is to pursue,” scientific and artistic understanding within the larger paradigm of intellectual unity”.

Wavelength, the collaborative entity founded in 2015 by the artist/curators Gianluca Bianchino and Jeanne Brasile, aligns itself within the tradition of metaphysical inquiry with regards to the perennial coincidence of art and science.  Their stated goals involve a, “curatorial practice (that) considers phenomenological art informed by scientific principles – concerned more with manifestation than representation”.  They have sponsored what they term “immersive exhibitions” such as The Particle and the Wave

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The Particle and the Wave at Index Art Center, 2016.  Left:  Eric Valosin “Hyalo 3 (ParticleWave)” and Right:  USCO “In Memory of Charlotte Moorman”

held at Index Art Center, Newark, NJ in June, 2016 and Light Years Away, slated for the same venue, in June of 2017.  In these efforts the curators have intentionally “mixed it up”, or installed the works in an essentially non-empirical manner, in order to engage the viewer on multiple levels of sensory and intellectual experience.  Their curatorial approach, much like life itself, rarely exerts a heavy hand in filtering out or distilling phenomenological encounters in any given environment towards any determinate intention. Accordingly, a light projection might be juxtaposed next to a painting, a kinetic sculpture opposite a photograph, or entire rooms made up of multiple phenomenal experiences.  In this way Bianchino and Brasile actuate the dialectical pas de deux between science and art that has founded such investigations for centuries.  One could say that Wavelength’s purpose is to bring a more particulate realism to the generic abstraction of the majority of contemporary “white box” art installations- a kind of immersive fog of aesthetic intention that nevertheless speaks with clarity about the necessity to unify disparate realms of experience. This is a commendable ambition, both romantic in its aspirations and pragmatic in its concrete goals, especially in a current social and political environment that would further force the separation of science and art while paradoxically privileging redoubts of reason built solely on blind faith and an often cynical political expediency. Wavelength’s project therefore can serve as both inspiration and expiration, of a capacious notion of art and science, phenomenally bound, and a release from pre-conceived notions of authority and nature. It was an artist, after all, who declared “I am nature”.  Jackson Pollock’s often misconstrued (and most likely apocryphal) phrase was most likely an iteration of his will toward the erasure of any aesthetic authorship in order to better collapse distinctions between the science of art and the art of science.  So there is too, inherent to Wavelength’s similar inquiry, an egalitarian leveling of strict categorical distinctions in order to more fully grasp a cosmos of aesthetic reasoning.

It remains to be seen whether the empirical and the metaphysical can be reconciled by aesthetic intervention in a contemporary discourse so laden with implicit dependence upon their continued separation. Brasile and Bianchino have a challenging task ahead of them.  Their ambition is supported, however, by a long tradition of experimentation and sometimes even real breakthroughs in inquiries into the nature of being, and the being of nature.

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[1] Hegel, in Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), wrote of his intention “To help to bring philosophy nearer to the form of science – that goal where it can lay aside the name of love of knowledge and be actual knowledge – that is what I have set before me.”

 

vcard.newschoolTom McGlynn is an artist, writer, and independent curator based in the NYC area. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Cooper- Hewitt National Design Museum of the Smithsonian. He has been a contributing writer to The Brooklyn Rail since 2012. Since 2013 he has been academically affiliated as a lecturer with Parsons/The New School.

 

 

 

 

Ekaterina Smirnova: Rendezvous with a Comet

“Each of us is just a little part of the Universe, so versatile and limitless.  I would like to understand our place in it, our triviality in the universal and our significance in the planetary scale”                                                                                                                                                   – Ekaterina Smirnova

Ekaterina Smirnova is a New York based artist.  She is highly inspired by science, particularly the realms of astronomy, physics and chemistry.  Smirnova collaborates with scientists from around the world, interpreting their research into art.  She works in multi-media formats including; large-scale watercolor paintings, ceramic sculptures, musical collaborations and interactive electronics.  She spoke with Wavelength from Hokkaido, Japan where she is presently researching new projects.


WL:  Your work has been recently featured on the Discovery Channel, in addition to numerous publications and gallery exhibitions.  Your practice revolves around the subject matter of space exploration and technology.  What is about space exploration that captures the human imagination?

ES:  We are all dreamers, we like to look at the stars. But some of us go beyond appreciating the beauty of the night sky. I am talking about scientists, people who dedicate their life to exploring the unknown. Their work is very important and isn’t easy, especially when they work on something that is not even proven to be true yet and many doubt the outcome of this work (for example scientists of the European Space Agency for many years has been working on the project called LISA Pathfinder, which is designed to explore gravitational waves, but the proof of gravitational waves just happened last year in 2016.)  As an artist I have a personal goal, I would like to make the scientific work more visible to every-day observers, to highlight the efforts of a large group of scientists

WL:  How and when did your interest in space develop?

ES:  I was born in USSR, the country which sent the first man to space. Yuri Gagarin was a big hero, every child knew his name and wanted to become him too. I would say that between this fact and that my father is an engineer and I was very interested in technology and space, I grew to appreciate everything related to space.

WL:  Your reference is space imagery created by dynamic painting techniques.  What do you wish to impart to the viewer with your representations of your subject matter and what are the impacts for viewers with regard to your unique processes?

ES:  I often use photo references created during various space missions, sometimes I use my own photography of the night sky. But my focus is not to be an illustrator and represent something precisely, I try to give my paintings freedom and looseness. Watercolor is a perfect medium for that. I love the way water is hard to control and the textures it creates by moving the pigment. I approach my painting techniques scientifically.  For example, I do experiments with self-mixed paints, I explore various waters and their behavior on paper, I sometimes even grow crystals on my paintings. All of it hopefully will attract my viewers to explore my paintings closer, discover new patterns, notice water marks, study how gravity plays a big role in my creation process. To me the creative process is as important as the subject matter

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67P III and 67P II, watermedia on paper, 70″ x 52″ each, 2015

WL:  In making the watercolor painting series project 67P, based on the Rosetta mission, you incorporate experimental techniques that replicate the conditions of the comet.  Can you briefly explain to our readers what the Rosetta mission is and describe why the mission is of such importance to you presently?

ES:  Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency (http://rosetta.esa.int) is a very unique one, because for the first time we not only explored a comet (67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko) so close, but also landed a robotic probe on it. Questions like how did water come to planet Earth and how does life travel through the universe are beginning to be answered because of this mission. One of my main focuses of this art project is the water on the comet. Water on 67P was discovered to be different from Earth, that’s why I thought it would be great if I could re-create this water and use it to paint my comet views.

WL:  Can you describe the phenomenon of heavy water in general and how you create and use it in your paintings?

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Process of electrolysis, enriching New York tap water with heavy water.

ES:  Rosetta discovered that water on the comet has the highest level of heavy water ever found in nature. Heavy water (deuterium oxide, 2H2O) is a form of water that contains larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium (2H or D), rather than the common hydrogen. On Earth, deuterated water occurs naturally in normal water at a proportion of about 1 molecule in 3,200. On the comet 67P it is 3 times higher. The HDO may be separated from normal water by distillation or electrolysis

WL:  How did you learn to create heavy water?  Did you research this independently or did you speak with scientists?

ES:  When I decided that it was important to use heavy water, I needed to figure out where to get it. So I started doing research. I realized that it is actually possible to concentrate it from the regular New York tap water via electrolysis.  I don’t like simple solutions I guess, so to make things more complicated I had to make my own electrolysis device out of an AC/DC adapter.  I had to consult a few of my friends – a chemist and an electrical engineer. Both said it was possible.

WL:  Does it feel different to use water colors with the water that has undergone the process of electrolysis?

ES:  Actually, there is no visual difference at all. But this is not what is important. By going a long way to create this special water to paint with, I want to share with my viewers a bit of science behind the space mission. Everyone who saw this pretty process of electrolysis (tiny bubbles of split water H and O streaming rapidly up) and heard me talking about Rosetta’s fascinating discoveries are becoming genuinely interested in this mission. And this is my main goal.

WL:  Is this experimentation in your artistic process enjoyable or confounding, or both at times?

ES:  I believe that artists and scientists have a lot in common. Both have an inquisitive mind. For me it is natural to do different types of experimentations, finding solutions to problems, testing and so on. Not every experiment is a successful one, which can get frustrating of course, but generally I take a big pleasure in experimenting, sometimes even losing myself in it and forgetting the main job – which is to create an artwork.

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67P work is displayed during Planetary Science symposium, Pasadena, California, 2016.  Viewers are interacting with paintings using augmented reality.

WL:  Is this experimentation in your artistic process enjoyable or confounding, or both at times?

ES:  I believe that artists and scientists have a lot in common. Both have an inquisitive mind. For me it is natural to do different types of experimentations, finding solutions to problems, testing and so on. Not every experiment is a successful one, which can get frustrating of course, but generally I take a big pleasure in experimenting, sometimes even losing myself in it and forgetting the main job – which is to create an artwork.

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Solo show at the European Space Agency, 2016.  Model of the Rosetta spacecraft (left), 67P III (right) , watermedia on paper, 70″ x 52″

 

WL:  Your work is often presented in non-traditional painting formats that are quasi-installation-like, such as large scale multi-panel paintings on paper in asymmetrical configurations.  What are the artistic concerns that bring about these specific presentations?

ES:  I always thought that rectangular formats are a bit “square,” lol, if you know what I mean. Who decided on this standard and why do we need to follow?  In my opinion art does not have rules. I like to work on odd formats, sometimes adding extra paper to a standard format, sort of getting out of the canvas. For the celestial paintings the inspiration comes from the space photo collages, where an image can take a random shape, what is outside of the shape – is missing data. Unfortunately the gallery world is not really prepared for the odd formats, which often causes different framing problems.

 

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The Shift, watercolor on paper, 87″ x 169″, 2013 – solo show at Kofu City Hall, Japan

WL:  What is next in the studio?  Is there a new project you are currently interested in?

ES:  This year my focus is the environment. I believe this is an important and more urgent topic. At the moment I am researching snow in subarctic regions in Japan. Snow is very sensitive to temperature, so it represents climate change better than anything else. I would like to continue working with scientists and already had a meeting with a glaciologist and a planetary scientist at the Low Temperature Institute in Sapporo. In the spring I will be participating in a science symposium of the European Geosciences Union. My session is “Scientists, Artists and the Earth: co-operating for a better planet sustainability.”  I would like to accentuate your attention to this big problem that we have globally, so that together we will be able to solve it.


For more information about Ekaterina Smirnova, visit her website

Ekaterina Smirnova was recently featured on the Discovery Channel speaking about the Rosetta Mission.  Watch the video here