do the wave

My last post about paper probably gave you something of a clue that I’m interested in the intersection of art and science. Photomicrographs are just a small example of that interesection. When you’re not looking for information in them, they often appear artistically abstract and yet strangely unmanufactured. But information is not art without being somehow altered—either physically or theoretically. That is, a photomicrograph in itself is not art, just representation. But take that photomicrograph and do a painting of it, putting it in a new setting, a new medium, reinterpreting its information as emotion or human experience, and it becomes art. It often doesn’t take much alteration, either, sometimes nothing more than a move from one medium to another.

This is one of the things architect/artist Maya Lin has done with her new series of wave form installations. The latest is an 11-acre installation at the Storm King Art Center in New York State called "Wave Field." The first of these was created for the courtyard of an engineering building at the University of Michigan, and started as a site-specific representation of what was being studied in the building, in this case, fluid dynamics and flight. There have been three in the series, and each installation represents a different type of wave in a successively larger landscape, from the small, intimate field of foot-high waves at the University of Michigan (right), inspired by non-linear Stokes waves, to the new Storm King installation, which features lines of 12-18 foot waves that you can walk through.

It’s one thing to do the math and see 2-D representations of waves, or even to watch their liquid form breaking on a beach. But being able to actually walk through a field of frozen waves gives an entirely different sense of their form and function, and a graduated sense of their movement as well. It’s the same effect walking through a dune field produces, but this is far more calculated and artificial. Rather than being a literal representation of information they become a proprioceptive experience. You can feel the shape of the physics, rather than just take it in intellectually.

Much of Lin’s other recent work deals with various types of topographical representation, and is worth taking a look at. If you’d like a quick tour, here’s a little video on what she’s up to. The Storm King landscape will be open next spring. I hope they’ve planted it with wildflowers.

1 thought on “do the wave”

  1. Articulating the Clouds

    In his books The Elegant Universe and Fabric of the Cosmos , theoretical physicist Brian Greene repeatedly sighs about the difficulty of representing the 10 conjectured dimensions predicted by string theory …. And even though some believe that it co…

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