CSIRO Residency November 2017

Note: This BLOG is a diary of my time at CSIRO in Lindfield


I will be doing a 1 month residency (Nov 2017) at CSIRO/NMI (Lindfield).. this BLOG post will be a diary of the process.


Day 1 – 5

It’s been a fascinating – humbling week as an artist.. made me discover that.. my being there.. I am the artwork.. it’s a performance.. the thing I am making performs.. and is mechanical and moves.. and so am I .. the Serendipity Machine has moving parts and interacts with its internal parts… that come from outside itself and so do I… John Lowke.. who was director at CSIRO in the 80’s spoke about a time there when the Australia Council funded an art science interaction:

Moya Henderson (musician inventor – new instrument (Alemba).. John said it was worked on to optimise its harmonic resonance..

Alexander learned the technology of Holograms

Michael Scullion – film maker

Simon Biggs – computer graphics

Paula Dawson  – independent performance artist – also developed work with holography.

Was an honour to meet a veteran of the Oz science community in John Lowke..

I started evolving the first Serendipity Machine (SM.i) slowly on day 1; by day three its form became clear to me.. and I had a sense of what it was.. it was sitting at the heart of the idea of measurement  – like Schrodinger’s bird… I put up signs everyday.. first sign: I invited scientists to build / explain / criticise the idea of ‘what is an irregular spring.. I got involved in a discussion with a group of scientists from the National Measurement Institute (NMI).. about springs and coupled harmonic oscillators (the latter I tried to incorporate into the growing SM. My idea behind the spring is that it is irregularly shaped.. and depend on the periodic behaviour (which because of the disorder in the system is impossible to predict).. should theoretically allow different behaviours to occur.. so that it is perhaps chaotic but behaviour can be quite specific and defined.. their point: the spring will have a single spring constant so shape will have no effect.. but (my point).. it depends from what angle and tension it is being pulled at and that can be affected. Their point.. my springs are crude in that they are made of galvanised wire and not heat treated high quality springs.. so there will be significant damping.. which is very true.. the system, stills quickly after operation.. the harmonic oscillators have livened it up in that regard.

The second sign read: ‘come and measure the SM’. This has provoked interesting discussion from the very different disciplines on what it means to measure.. what is the question? Asked some physicists (Andrew and Guillermo) who work in quantum optics.. Engineer (Caled).. wanted to know what the energy output was.. all different disciplines have a different meaning / interpretation what measurement is. I make the point that this is undeniably a physical system in the world.. no matter what else you might want to say about it.. and.. like any physical system we have different ways to try to measure / interact / observe it. When we do that.. what can we say about it? Can we fully describe it.. that is why I ask the system to measure (draw!!) itself as a way of describing itself.. and then I realise that is all I am.. and dare I say.. all we are.. evolved systems trying to describe ourselves… clumsily and probably hopelessly inadequately.. or that is often how it feels like to me.. especially when I am trying to do it in such an exposed way.. which is the mighty point of it…

I put up a sign…. (on the Thursday).: by measuring / observing the flight behaviour of a single bird.. can you know / understand the mechanics of the whole system.. i.e. can you “see” the architecture that is allowing that to happen?

Monday morning 30/10; 630am

Today I run the Serendipity Machine.. at lunchtime.. make an announcement… Sholto (the press!!) is coming.. and the NMI marketing dept.. to say I am nervous is an understatement.. but I realised I have to jump in like that… I realised I am the art work too… I am worried it is going to disappoint! It will be a damp squid.. literally… but it needs to be done.. and I need to get up and announce it… processes that repeat… time / space… your machines / teleologically ‘perfect’ but all other mechanical processes that evolve in the universe.. and that could even be said to be the scientific process the evolutionary process.. evolve.. and they carry.. irregularity.. I love that irregularity… it is the uncertainty that brings about the chance encounters of beauty.. too regular it is dead… too irregular………………………………………. Come and wind up the SM.. and see what happens.. is what I am thinking.

Midway through the early morning I realised what I have been building over the week.. it is not necessarily a serendipity machine.. and my realisation reminded me.. that in art.. you can’t escape yourself.. your nervous system seems too closely wired to the parts that express.. the hands.. what you are experiencing comes through in the hands… and I realised I am not expressing the scientific process I am expressing and building my own nervous response to this process.. you cannot escape yourself in art.. I was allowing my hands free reign.. and if I do that they are going to tell me what is foremost giving rise to their expression… so the work is responding to its environment but not in the way I had intended it to do… [named: Sid’s Nervous System Interacting with the Scientists at CSIRO]

2/11/2017 Thursday

Been home a couple of day developing the next platform (photo).. and also spent whole of yesterday in bed with flu..

Ran SM.i on Monday.. and I think it went really well.. there was good turn out.. and they clapped… Sholto though it went – his words – excellently!!! – is that even a word Sholt!? I was nervous but also completely in the moment.. I watched myself carefully through the whole process and even.. I would say carefully controlled the words and actions that occurred.. quite in contrast to the erratic behaviour of SM.i.. who painted and jangled about with its nervous birds… various CSIRO staff drove my mechanical Nervous System..

Shane Keenan took me on a tour of the Superconductor lab.. got some beautiful material.. together with old defunct pieces of equipment that Katie gave me.. there is definitely a poignancy and beauty in the exquisitely machined pieces of equipment.. that had a certain purpose that is no more. Been put to pasture.. so to speak.. I sincerely hope I can do them justice. How do you take an exquisite thing with a presence of its own and incorporate into SM.ii so that SM.ii is not overwhelmed by its presence and it becomes something greater.. as an appendage.


Saturday morning.. just after 6 am got my coffee and there are some birds chirping.. I feel still thick in the middle of things.. developed SM.ii which was a more solid construction than SM.i.. was more contained.. didn’t need a scaffold and was a more ambitious construction that I should be able to build as a more permanent structure.. it is my old work table with bicycle cogs integrated into it.. it ‘makes’ its own scaffold. I am very proud of this mechanical.. as a constructed object. I worked on it all week and set it up while still evolving it at AIP / Industry Day and by the end of the day it was working well.. Got a good video of gary jones running it.. he would like me to replace the existing bird with a FLEDGE bird… strategically I think that is a good idea and I will do it!

My final objective is to set SM.i alongside SM.ii and have them do an interactive drawing.. someone operating (i) and someone operating (ii) and then depending on the way you draw (turn the mechanism) some drawing should emerge that is a combination of (i) and (ii).. I am keen to do this as it was something I had initially though would be a good idea.. and more importantly one of the scientists (Ian) suggested it and I would like to honour that.

At CSIRO AIP day had great interaction with Ann Haines (learning and development consultant at CSIRO.. who I think recognises the value that kind of ‘machine learning’ can bring..

Rchard Savoie Founder / CEO of StayBil (Stability through Mobility) –  associated with FLEDGE and  Steven Davey (who spells his name right!!) and is a senior mentor at FLEDGE..  I suggested to him and Gary Jones that they needed an on board artist – i.e. me. For a period of time.. I must follow this up! Both these guys and Gary Jones ran SM.ii and it was great.. Steven gave it a hell of a crank… interesting to see his upfront vigour.. it was terrifying.. but necessary!!1 I think the latest iteration of SM.ii would have handled it..

Caled Chahine: ‘It’s got something.. reminds me when we were young – discovery – no judgement’.. I paraphrase the essence of what he said..


Tuesday 14/11/17 Things that are sticking in my mind.. visit to Grieg Small.. last week.. he has the lab (NMI) that developed the standard for electrical capacitance.. all about geometry.. if you get the geometry right you can calculate the capacitance.. don’t need to measure.. which is a powerful idea to get a primary standard.. he then went about showing me the process of getting the geometry right.. having to smooth down (polish) metal tube.. to within nanometre smoothness… this is very fine scale geometry,.. 4 months of scientific polishing.. this goes generally unappreciated.. but there is great pride in that lab.. in the 1960’s… to be confident about your reference frames you had to put the thing in a ship.. and off it went to England.. probably changing on the way..


So the day I arrive.. John Lowke who was the ceo of CSIRO (if that’s the right title??) in the 1980s.. he came to tell me about the heyday at CSIRO.. in the 80s.. when the oz govt provided much funds for art science collaborations… one of the artists.. a musician / inventor.. had invented an instrument called an Alemba.. which needed some physics intervention… to get it happening.. I managed to track her down (not that hard.. admittedly).. but the upshot is she is going to be at the finale on Thursday at Lunchtime.. John Lowke.. a real veteran.. will introduce her… it’s a beautiful story of the (truncated) history of art/science in oz.. and she –  to me – is a great story… unrecognized… and this is full circle stuff.. bringing it all back home as Bob would say.

Wed 15/11 yesterday afternoon I put up a white sheet behind SM.i and SM.ii to make it a pristine artwork… but was horrified and revolted by the effect and then I realized why… it is not a pristine artwork.. it is part of a community.. linked to its environment it is not a separate thing and I think I / it was reacting to that… viscerally… today… running on a nervous energy.. tomorrow is the finale,.. and I am just nervous of the performance.. hoping SMii’s chain will hold out for the duration of the experiment.. decided not to test the interaction (well.. I can’t.. I only am one person).. but let it all happen live… get 2 people.. volunteers.. or call ups… and let them each run.. [perhaps do a control on the first page.. where each run their experiments independently.. and then.. do a combination on the second sheet of paper…

I need to do my best to capture the proceedings… FB live; which must include closeups of drawing (tomorrow I better test that chain.. hope its gods are on my side)… and set up main camera… Sam is also going to come and film.. hopefully between these three cameras and who ever else films.. we’ll get something…


It must be remembered.. and I need to remember it too.. although my art is underpinned by science.. and plays with many ideas.. it is above all expressive art… like my drawing… not highly ordered and stylized.. but personal made rawly by hand… clunking… and that is how it should be.. so I need to get over my feeling of inadequacy when art-influenced science talks big data and hi-tech


After a pretty sleepless night of letting dogs out and dreaming that I had the machine precariously set up at some unrecognizable house… and then realizing I would have to move it to CSIRO.. and then nearly getting into a traffic accident with my dad who unexpectedly appeared before my eyes.. thankfully I awoke to a sleeplessness that would not let up..

This morning I sat up on the deck with the best cup of coffee I have had in a long time.. milky slightly sweet.. I realized what the restless spirit of SM.ii was… its name appeared to me.. ‘the scientist’.. and all the anxiety left me to be replaced by elation.. its moodiness.. its resistance to being manipulated / told what to do.. its spirit… fiercely creative when left to its own mechanism.. I felt proud of it.. and I felt it recognized many of the scientists I had recognized.. there tendrils and wiring.. I will be proud and convinced to stand up later today and announce: “The Scientist”.. and have it interact with SM.!



Its been a few days since ‘the finale’.. and what an incredible; intense experience.. it has taken me a few days to work it out… even though I think Moya (Henderson).. and Jean (Pretorius) got it immediately. I’ll say this – fresh – my worst nightmare happened.. but it took me a while to recognize that my worst nightmare was the best possible outcome. SM.! ‘behaved’ reasonably well.. (drawings to follow).. SM.ii (‘The Scientist’).. was its temperamental self – I should have guessed!! – and while it was going the damned chain kept coming off.. BUT.. the scientists got in there.. and tried to get it back on.. trying! Failing ! trying .. succeeding.. failing.. but all instants recorded by the brush.. all described.. all scientists.. Michael (Wouters); Tim (VanderLaan); Shane (Keenan).. Keith… all loading the brush… Jean (Artist / mathematician).. getting grease on his hands from the chain.. trying to make the scientist behave which he was never fully going to do.. then I realised… that is the artwork.. the scientists mathematicians.. artists engineers all part / integrated into the chaos generating machine.. wanting it to work.. chaos brings about the beautiful generation of a novel pattern of interaction.. all captured in ink in the drawing SM.! ˂=====˃SM.ii (to follow)…


Another point to make – John  Lowke – former director (in the ‘80s).. opened the finale.. it meant a huge amount to him to have Moya there and to open it.. and it meant a huge amount for Moya to be there.. this was patently clear… and a novel and completely unexpected and beautiful outcome to the proceedings.

Another point worth noting.. Ian (White?) brought me a mini-machine he had made.. polar motor Battery coupled to a magnet.. coupled to a copper coil – copper coil turns.. he made this and brought it for me to see.. another beautiful gesture I felt.

Key Insight (122817)

I am sitting here putting together the video document of the finale – and the experience at CSIRO.. trying to keep it as short as possible. Leave out the unnecessary bits – get the point succinctly. The key insight is about mechanical systems. I realized early on that I was as much a part of the mechanical objects that I was building:

Because hand operated

The operator becomes

Part of the mechanics

People interacting with the SM

Become part of the


That is the

Nature of

A mechanical system / as long as the situation

Is periodic.. i.e. if there

Is an aspect

Of return

Then that entity

Is part of



The SM (that therefore included me).. I think could be said to be part of CSIRO/NMI, but until the scientists interacted with it – they were not part of the mechanism of the Serendipity Machine. That changed for me in a poetic an beautiful way on the day of the finale, because as SM.ii was failing.. as ‘the scientist’ was failing.. the scientists got involved to ‘make it work’ they became part of the mechanical success of the system – they became truly a part of its mechanism.

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