Fusing art and science
ART AND SCIENCE
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.”
Square Root, 2015, charcoal and graphite on paper