I am an artist with a background in science. I am fascinated by processes that repeat, but do so imperfectly. If you look around at the world, you will notice that most things are repeated. Think about what the world would look like if everything was unique. That would be a crazy thought. Even us humans. We are an idea repeated 9 billion times or so, but thankfully, imperfectly. This embodies the idea of things repeating indefinitely in space. I explore this idea with drawings. For example, see below (The Effect of Butterflies on Boat Building Blocks III; 150×120; ink on canvas).
But things do not only repeat in space. They repeat in time too. The entire process of evolution (which I am interested in as that was what got me into science in the first place) is about imperfect temporal repetition. Every generation the process is repeated, with the errors inherent becoming all the diversity of life we see around us. To try to capture this and EMBODY these processes into physical objects I have started to build mechanical objects out of bicycles and other household items that occur in my environment. At their core they have a regular process, but that regularity through its mechanical operation, transmits irregularities to its peripheral components. My machines -which I see as self-portraits – are not perfect. They carry a wobble, in part because their builder is not perfect. They – like us – have as their essential goal – merely to persist for as long as they possibly can. The ancient Greeks built sophisticated machinery to try to predict and describes the regularities that the universe had to offer, but my machines are much more interested in measuring and describing our irregular process, which must sit at the heart of all matter.
I find most fascinating and useful when these machines are evolved in public spaces
where people of that community may add and build components. This then makes them much more like true evolutionary units as they are directly influenced and AFFECTED by their immediate environment. Being built in spaces where science is done is also great (this was done during a day installation at CSIRO) and what I found most interesting is that it was not clear to onlookers that what they were seeing was art and this allowed a very different engagement with it.. it asked the question what is this thing in the environment? What can it mean? It is a different question to the question you would ask if it is encountered in a gallery.
This engagement with scientists is something I see as very important. To this end I have had an extensive collaboration with The Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technologies at UNSW, which culminated in an Exhibition at Bondi Pavilion in 2016. The value in this exhibition was not only in how the public were drawn into the science in a different way but also in the way the scientists were able to see their work from a different perspective:
“It is not possible to measure a quantum system and extract information about it without changing the system. This is counter intuitive, but it is something that we just accept as quantum physicists. We have to deal with it every day in our research, so it is good to see how an artist interprets this and gets to the core of the quantum-ness that we want to utilise to build a quantum computer.” Sven Rogge – Program Manager, CQC2T; Head of School of Physics, UNSW.
My goal going forward is to continue to build machines that embody our beautiful irregularities and try as much as possible to engage with scientists, using art as a vehicle for interpretation and use this approach as much as possible draw the general public into experiencing the wonders and curiosity that should have a greater role in driving our feelings and behaviour.
The ancient greeks measured the regularity of the solar system with precision and sophistication.. building devices like the recently discovered anthykithera machine.. I am more interested in the irregularities that are hidden and transmitted by the regular behaviour. That is where the beauty hides.. that is what becomes us.
I see the universe as an unfolding dynamical system. Complex structures emerge from simple underlying repetitive processes. In more complex systems like what we see in biological evolution this iterative process accommodates irregularities (thus all the variation we see around us)… and the selection process through its feedback with the environment displays what seems like learning / improving / ADAPTATION. I, want to get at these irregularities, the chaos, the uncertainty – that is where our beauty and difference come from
I make machines that recapitulate that..and have drawings emerge through the manipulation of simple mechanical phenomenon that attempt to reveal the inner workings of the complex universe.
Evolver is a 3 turntable system which generates through a simple repetitive process a mathematically definable structure. The system is coupled to a pendulum with irregular springs that then produce a chaotic drawing
These drawings are the products of attaching a pen to the irregular pendulum.. variation is achieved by shifting around some of the wires involved which subtly changes the motion of the pendulum. The results describe the chaos carried by the the interaction of the regular wheels with the irregular pendulum.
The irregular pendula, when uncouple from the machine and used as a drawing implement by me behaves chaotically, but is adaptive in the same way that evolution is adaptive. There is learning (feedback between what i want to see happen and what my hand then does to manipulate drawing apparatus. However due to the chaotic nature of the pendulum the chaos can be to some extent controlled but by no means eliminated.
Drawing out the forms in the chaos:
In the beginning there is; 2018; machine-assisted drawing; ink on paper (50x50cm)
In the biblical mythology.. on the 5th day of creation.. fish and birds were created.. the mechanical piece.. Fish Bird Longing.. asks what the underlying architecture must be to allow things in our universe to separate from each other? can they return?
Had a brilliant experience at the science gallery (Melbourne 2018) as part of a workshop at the Perfection exhibition showing The EVOLVER Machine. This machine, shows that any seemingly perfect (i.e. mathematically coherent system0 can reveal chaos depending on how it interacts with its environment.
In 2008 when I first painted my studio.. I am seated… hands holding the chair.. and there is some apparition.. with my coffee cup – no less.. holding the brush – the one with the power I presume.. I am sitting before a blank canvas.. almost mocked by the fish in the mirror (a fish self portrait?) who is painting the same scene.. that this painting is of.. the room is quite bare / bleak? The orange couch.. sliding off the bottom left off the painting.. saves it.. but.. it’s sliding off…
2018 I painted my studio again.. it became apparent to me at the end of the painting that it was a painting of the studio… this painting was never going to be figurative.. it was going to be how building blocks inevitably migrate / transform into symbols.. by the energetics / motion in the universe… mediated by the action of birds.. and fishy bird interactions. But I painted my chair… sparely.. into the painting.. like a symbol.. a symbol teetering at the edge of the real.. made of bones… and then Arlene showed me paintings of Kitaj… and they provoked me to find a figure in my painting.. so I did.. and of course the figure was me.. no longer sitting but at the interface of flying and falling.. recognizing that when I have the power it is precarious and must be on that edge.
Motion is responsible for all of our properties. Much of the work I do as an artist is to ask how our different properties can emerge. Why do we experience the property of longing? Things can touch but often miss. In this machine- Fish Bird Longing .. the fish and bird dance and have different motions from the same base motor.. and when I look at it.. I am led to wonder what the underlying architecture – that we cannot see – must be like to allow events to happen… or not.
These are the accompanying notes for my machine ‘to reach for longing’.. Its about the idea that time is intimately tied in with motion.. to transition from one moment to the next requires a spatial extension.. and deep in that.. is the architecture.. our need to L.O.N.G.. to extend beyond ourselves..