Fus­ing art and sci­ence


Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Abatemarco

Art and lan­guage are per­happs the best medi­ums we have for exxpress­ing thoughts and man­i­fest­ingg ideas in ma­te­rial form. “Lan­guage” here,h how­ever, refers not just to the ob­vi­ous writ­ten and ver­bal means ofo com­mu­ni­cat­ing, but also to such things as non­ver­bal ges­tures, math­em­mat­ics, and bi­nary code — any struc­turred means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing knowl­eedge. For artist, au­thor, and sci­en­tist ToddT Siler, art, too, has much broader ap­pli­ca­tions. You might as­so­ci­atte art with paint­ing or sculp­ture — your mind may even fly to a spe­cific work by a par­tic­u­lar artist whenn the word “art” is in­voked. But what aboutt the gen­er­ated thought-im­age it­self, or anyy spon­ta­neous im­age cre­ated in the mindd when one hears a cer­tain word or sees a spe­cific sign? The brain is the mas­ter ar­tisst within us all, con­stantly mak­ing as­so­ci­a­tionns; gen­er­at­ing con­cep­tual, ab­stract thoughts aand im­ages; cre­at­ing nar­ra­tives; and dreaminng. It does so on the spur of the mo­ment, with ana ease and flu­id­ity that puts Jack­son Pol­lock to shhame. For Siler, art is art with a cap­i­tal A — and a cap­pi­tal R and T, as well. He of­ten ref­er­ences the acronyym A.R.T., which stands for “All Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Thought.”Tg

Siler’s con­cep­tual art­works, on ex­hibit in the Pe­ters Projects-hosted in­vi­ta­tional ex­hi­bi­tion Spec­trum, are in­spired by his col­lab­o­ra­tion with nanochemist Ge­of­frey Ozin. Siler be­gan work­ing with Ozin in 2011 on ArtNano In­no­va­tions, an on­go­ing pro­ject that aims to spur cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion in the field of “ArtS­cience,” which rec­og­nizes art as sci­ence and vice versa. In part, the idea be­hind ArtNano In­no­va­tions is to erase the lines de­mar­cat­ing where one dis­ci­pline ends and an­other be­gins. “My whole in­te­gra­tion of art and sci­ence is that th­ese com­ple­men­tary ways of look­ing at the world are on­go­ing,” Siler told Pasatiempo. “So many prod­ucts we have to­day, they man­i­fest as the in­te­gra­tion of art and sci­ence.”

Spec­trum ac­com­pa­nies “The Art of Sys­tems Bi­ol­ogy and Nanoscience,” the an­nual sym­po­sium of lec­tures and work­shops spon­sored by the New Mex­ico Spa­tiotem­po­ral Mod­el­ing Cen­ter and Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­to­ries. The show in­cludes works by na­tional artists, in­clud­ing Suzanne Anker and Adam Belt, and such re­gional artists as Eric Gar­duño and Charles Ross and places them among mi­cropho­tog­ra­phy cre­ated at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico and Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory. “The Art of Sys­tems Bi­ol­ogy and Nanoscience” takes place on Fri­day, March 18, and Satur­day, March 19, but the ex­hi­bi­tion re­mains on view through April. The event in­cludes a talk by Siler, “ArtS­cience: Re­al­iz­ing the Im­pos­si­ble,” which takes place at Pe­ters Projects on Satur­day. Siler’s talk is one of three free pub­lic lec­tures that oc­cur dur­ing the event this week­end. The ex­hibit’s run co­in­cides with NanoDays (March 26 to April 3), a na­tion­widee cel­e­bra­tion of nanoscience or­ga­nized by the Nanoscaale In­for­mal Sci­ence Education Net­work.

The amalggam of what most see as sep­a­rate fields — art and sci­en­nce — is an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ap­proach that de­vel­opped out of Siler’s in­ter­est in the func­tions of the hu­man brain and psy­chol­ogy. He was the first persson to re­ceive a Ph.D. in In­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary Stud­ies in Sci­ence and Art, which he was awarded by the Mass­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in 1986. Siler coined the terms “metaphorm” and “metaphor­rm­ing” to de­scribe the process by which we trannscend the in­grained men­tal con­structs or ca tegories we ap­ply to our en­coun­ters withh sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence (metaphorm­ing), andd the re­sult­ing new con­structs (metaph­horms). “I first con­ceived of it in 1975,” Si­iler said. “It’s a way to put all of our laan­guage-mak­ing into a sin­gle means of coom­mu­ni­cat­ing. When you see ev­ery­th­hing in the nat­u­ral world as well as built envvi­ron­ments, I think of all those things as mmetaphorms.” Metaphorm­ing is it­self a comp­pletely nat­u­ral process — the brain is not jusst a mas­ter artist, but a mas­ter scholar of in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary stud­ies, too. Be­cause nnan­otech­nol­ogy is con­cerned with the ma­nip­u­la­tioon of mat­ter on atomic and molec­u­lar lev­els, as well as with pre­ex­ist­ing nat­u­ral con­structs on a nano scaale, such as the struc­ture of a DNA strand, it opens up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for art un­dreamed of be­fore the de­vel­op­ment of nanoscience in the midto late 20th cen­tury. In part, that is be­cause we are now see­ing things we never saw be­fore, even though they were there all along. Any rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the phys­i­cal ob­ject, no mat­ter how small, is a cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Some spe­cific works of art in Spec­trum, be­gin­ning with the mi­cropho­tog­ra­phy de­vel­oped at UNM, bear this out. Color en­hance­ments are used to dis­tin­guish and en­hance ob­jects. Th­ese im­ages of bi­o­log­i­cal life on the molec­u­lar and cel­lu­lar level are an aid to sci­en­tific re­search. They ap­pear in sci­ence ar­ti­cles for trade pub­li­ca­tions and mag­a­zines and of­ten il­lus­trate what’s de­scribed in sci­en­tific pa­pers and pre­sen­ta­tions — this is art in the ser­vice of sci­ence. But plac­ing th­ese im­ages on a gallery wall for view­ing pur­poses changes the con­text to one where aes­thetic ap­pre­ci­a­tion is a pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion; this is metaphorm­ing.

The paint­ings — I call them brain-based — they’re all rep­re­sent­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics and aspects of the hu­man brain. They are point­ing out the dif­fer­ent con­nec­tions about how the mind creates ideas.

— artist and sci­en­tist Todd Siler

Siler’s works in Spec­trum in­clude mono­types and two- and three­d­i­men­sional mixed-me­dia ob­jects. His “photo-metaphorms,” such as

Mind/Uni­verse in 11 Di­men­sions and Cos­mic Land­fill, are erect and sin­u­ous alu­minum photo-sculp­tures that stretch as though reach­ing out from their bases to con­nect to some­thing un­seen: a thought, per­haps, or an­other ob­ject. The mixed-me­dia paint­ing Grasp­ing Synapses ref­er­ences the process by which the ner­vous sys­tem acts as a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter, but the com­po­si­tion is an ab­stract rather than a lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion. “The paint­ings — I call them brain-based — they’re all rep­re­sent­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics and aspects of the hu­man brain,” Siler said. “They are point­ing out the dif­fer­ent con­nec­tions about how the mind creates ideas. I’m try­ing to show the process that we nor­mally don’t see. I want it to re­main open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion.”

The il­lus­tra­tive char­ac­ter of mi­cropho­tog­ra­phy, and even such things as schemat­ics and artists’ ren­der­ings that aim for re­al­ism, are at vari­ance with Siler’s ap­proach. “If I make a draw­ing of nano car­bon tubes and I’m try­ing to be very faith­ful to the scope, I have to be very spe­cific,” he said. “I like to ab­stract it to in­vite am­bi­gu­ity. It al­lows me the free­dom to in­ter­pret in a much more open-ended way. The in­ten­tional ab­strac­tion al­most al­lows a po­etic side to come through.”

For Siler, metaphorm­ing is cen­tral to how we rep­re­sent ideas in sci­ence and art. “When I sum up ev­ery­thing I’ve learned, in ev­ery field — art ar­chi­tec­ture, busi­ness, medicine, mil­i­tary sci­ences, sports — all of th­ese fields use dif­fer­ent aspects of vi­su­al­iz­ing ideas and giv­ing form to them. We use this very sim­ple lan­guage of sym­bol mak­ing, and we’ve been do­ing it for mil­len­nia.”

Eric Gar­duño:

Square Root, 2015, char­coal and graphite on pa­per

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