Tutorial: Block 4, Week 6

David Somers bio photo By David Somers Comment

Today, Jonathan and the studio-based cohort are visiting Liverpool; the Liverpool Biennial is on so they have lots to see. Therefore, Ed Kelly is leading the online group tutorial.

Science and Art

Science and art: where they converge, where the differences lie, the cultural split between the two and how science and art can converge.

First, a picture.


The underlying principles of nature are in themselves a form of evolutionary technology. In fact, studies have shown that the Fibonacci series (1+1 = 2, 1+2 = 3, 2+3=5, 3+5 = 8, 5+8 = 13, etc.) accurately describes these organisms and many others.

That is the description of the process by which a Romanescu, and many other natural organisms are formed.

Technology looks at nature to copy its perfection and adaptation with the environment. Boston Dynamics’ robots are good example of it. Gaudí observed and used nature as a base to find solutions to architectural problems, too


Here is the source for the processing file that generated it.

 * The Fern Fractal
 * by Luis Correia.
 * Simple rendering of a fern.

// Initial point: x0 must be 0 and y0 can be any value >=0.
float x0 = 0;
float y0 = 0;
float x;
float y;
float r;
int i;
int j;

void setup() {
  size(500, 500);

void draw() {
  int maxiterations = 1000000;

  int n = 0;

  while (n++ < maxiterations) {
    r = random(100);
    if (r <= 1) {
      x = 0;
      y = 0.16 * y0;
    else {
      if (r <= 8) {
        x = 0.2 * x0 - 0.36 * y0;
        y = 0.23 * x0 + 0.22 * y0;
      else {
        if (r <= 15) {
          x = -0.15 * x0 + 0.28 * y0;
          y = 0.26 * x0 + 0.24 * y0 + 0.44;
        else {
          x = 0.85 * x0 + 0.04 * y0;
          y = -0.004 * x0 + 0.85 * y0 + 1.6;
    i = height - int(y * 45);
    j = width / 2  + int(x * 45);
    if (i >= 0 && i < height && j >= 0 && j < width) {
      //pixels[i * height + j] += 512;
      if(green(pixels[i * height + j]) < 254) {
        pixels[i * height + j] = color(0, green(pixels[i * height + j]) + 2, 0);
      else {
        if(red(pixels[i * height + j]) < 126) {
          pixels[i * height + j] = color(red(pixels[i * height + j]) + 2, 255, 0);
    x0 = x;
    y0 = y;

Ed makes some observations:

Science is the study of the natural world through empirical observation. In fact art is the study of empirical observation of your own technique and it’s results. That’s why you blog, write about your work and reflect. In fact? Maybe not. In one principled way I suppose. Some artists just do, and don’t care about the result, or conceptionaly throw things at the audience to see what the result is. This is also (sociologically) empirical


Fractals were very “in” in the 1980s.

Looking at more “art” produced by scientists.


OK, so is this art? who cares. The first image and the second image I shared there are both the work of pure mathematicians. The first is “a new kind of spiral” discovered a few years ago called the “Harris Spiral”.

The second is - wait for it - a crochet knitted Lorenz Manifold by Hinke M. Osinga & Bernd Krauskopf

Lorenz was a pioneer of chaos theory. Lorenz Attractor.

What’s the line between the two subjects? The subjects of art and science were considered to be two parts of the same “natural philosophy” area in the Renaissance, but afterwards they diverged into separate categories. What we are seeing now is a convergence of the two, so science can create art and art can become an aspect of science, such as the colouring of electron micrographs and possibilities for 3D printing.

Patrick asked: Is the current convergence of science and art simply a fad?

We have access to now that is unusual is big data. Is this a fad? Was surrealism a fad? That is for you to decide in the context of your own artistic practice. But there are objects of beauty and wonder, or extremely challenging ugliness to be found in this collaboration between disciplines, and some quite fertile territories to mine if you’re inclined to do so

The two subjects where once part the same “natural philosophy” area in the Renaissance.

Look, the “art coefficient” (Duchamps) is always unpredictable. Technology moves on. Art moves with it, but some things remain. I’ll post that essay by Duchamps in a bit, but for now let’s consider medical science and something such as:

  • EmBodied, an online exhibition featuring the work of 16 SciArt Center members.

  • The Wellcome building on Euston road has some science related pieces, e.g. Bedlam: the asylum and beyond.

Peter Saville, Unknown_Pleasures: Joy_Division
The Original Source

It was originally a radio signal, from the original astronomy book: The first pulsar (neutron star) discovered. To others it looks like a mountain or an Albrecht Dürer woodcut. It was an appropriation of scientific work, turned into a piece of art. As Peter Saville said, “I said, shall we put Unknown Pleasures on the front, and they said ‘no’, and so I said ‘shall we put Joy Division’ on the front?’, and they didn’t seem too bothered about that either” — so the removal of context makes this have a completely different meaning.

When isolated from a scientific context, science visualisations, like data visualisation, create patterns that create some kind of visual pleasure.

Images are subject to interpretation by the audience, and so a narrative or abstract interpretation is available to the viewer.

And onto high-energy physics…

The Large Hadron Collider. They also run an arts program. 2014’s winner was a Japanese artist famous more for electronic music: Ryoji Ikeda.

It is generated from live particle interactions of the LHC. And that is some serious “big data”. Although this is big science (the biggest scientific experiment ever constructed) there is no reason why it can’t be incorporate in digital art on a smaller scale (e.g. there is a Yahoo Weather plugin for Processing).

Aesthetics are tightly controlled by the artist (Ikeda) but fed to the machines (Processing, Pure Data, Max/MSP/ Supercollider etc) is the data stream that generates the audiovisual experience. But its such a big project, he probably had custom-made software.

As Sarah R put it:

The data is just the paint, but it is Ikeda with the brush.

and Xavi:

Ikeda is taking nature (data) as his source, and through his vision of aesthetics, he creates his pieces. In terms of a scientific process, observation, interpretation, test.

It is artistic interpretation of the data.

And onto artificial intelligence…


Bogart does is to feed images, usually taken randomly by an automated pan+tilt camera, and feed them into a neural network. A neural network is a computer model of neurons within the brain, otherwise known as a “self-organising map”. He uses these in various ways. Interestingly, the neural network has “down-time” meaning that it goes to sleep… and then it dreams.

For the three-screen installation of this work:

  • the left screen shows the most recent image
  • the middle screen shows the map of images
  • the right screen shows the dreams that the machine has


And onto Marcel Duchamp (again)…

To read later, The Creative Act.

And finally, some brain to music:

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