Science in the Arts
The 1999 summer World Conference on Science satellite
Alteregos of masterworks, exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts,
Heroes' square, XIV, 24 June - December.
Restoration of artworks and computing, exhibition,
Russian Cultural Centre, 120 Andrássy St., VI, 21 June - 2 July 1999.
Ars (Dis)Symmetrica '99, exhibition, Ernst Museum,
8 Nagymezo St., VI, 25 June - 25 July.
Magnetics, exhibition by German Kargion, Ernst Museum,
8 Nagymezo St., VI, 25 June - 25 July.
Light and Forms, exhibition of Károly Klimó and Willi Weiner,
Goethe Institute, 24 Andrássy St. VI, 19 June - 29 July.
Harmony, Disharmony, associated exhibition, Nádor Gallery,
8 József nádor square, V, 23 June - 18 July.
12 Hungarian Nobel-prise winners, sculpture portraits by József Kampfl, Palace of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences,
9 Roosevelt Pl., V, 25 June - 5 July.
Hommage à Escher, memorial exhibition, Museum of Ethnography,
12 Kossuth Lajos square, V, 28 June - 28 July.
Experimental photographs, kinetic works, holograms, associated exhibition, Pest Center Gallery, 15 Peterdi St., VII, 23 June - 16 August.
Ars (Dis)Symmetrica '99
Science in the Arts - Art in the Sciences
Art and science are composite parts of human culture. Not by chance, the golden ages of European culture were characterized by the simultaneous prosperity of these two elements. The golden century of Greek culture and the Renaissance in Italy witnessed great achievements both in the arts and in science, just like hopefully our age at the end of the twentieth century. These three periods provided the best atmosphere for the flourishing of outstanding personalities. All historic periods gave excellences to culture, nevertheless, their excellence became apparent either for the dominance of their right cerebral hemisphere - they were considered as artists, or for their left hemisphere dominance - they are known as scientists. Most outstanding personalities, producing great achievements both in the arts and in science were very rare, nevertheless they were active mainly in the mentioned three periods. It is a great honour for us to be born in such a period and be contemporaries of such excellences.
The twentieth century brought the blurring of the boundaries between strict forms of art, and also between scientific disciplines. In the second part of the century, the main achievements were produced on their overlappings, and less at the cores of the classical forms of arts or disciplines. Moreover, the history of the recent two decades shows mutual influences of arts and sciences on each other. These influences have been apparent both in borrowing methods from each other, and in the heuristics to find new ways; they were traced by the birth of new forms of arts and discoveries in science.
Certain notions, applied in both the arts and the sciences, played a distinguished role in these influences. Such a function was fulfilled, for example, by the following notions: analysis, arrangement, artificial, design, function, harmony, hierarchy, order, patterns, perspective, similitude, structure, symmetry, system, and so on. In some cases the opposites of the mentioned notions (like order - chaos), or other related terms (like symmetry - dissymmetry, antisymmetry, asymmetry), or their broader meaning (like structure - construct - constructivism) were applied in various fields of arts and science as well. Art-science relations are almost always mediated by one or more of these notions. The more fields and disciplines is one of them applied in, the more important it is, from the aspect of studying art-science relations.
When specifying the topic of the given exhibitions, one concentrated on the appearance of the application of one of these intermediate notions. This also provided a selection method for the works to be invited and presented, and shaped the character of the exhibitions.
Such a concept is dissymmetry, a very wide concept, as it is present in almost all branches of the arts and sciences. It appears in different forms and altered meanings, keeping something common at the same time. It denotes a phenomenon, as it appears, and also a property of phenomena defined in exact mathematical terms. In its original meaning, dissymmetry means a small distortion of symmetry. In other words, something keeps its symmetry as its main feature, but in a detail this symmetry is broken. While we generally prefer symmetry (this fact is proved by psychology), we like to see the world around us varied. A world showing full symmetry in all details, would be very boring. Moreover, a fully symmetric universe could not have evolved. The small distortions of symmetry are the motors of any evolution, not speaking of their aesthetic functions. To reflect the world truly in the arts, one needs to reflect the reality with its intrinsic dissymmetry.
Doors are designed in most cases to be symmetric, but none of us has seen a door whose handle was mounted on it without distorting its symmetry - doors are dissymmetric. Arabesques consist of symmetric motives, at least in their main lines, while we do not recognize that their patterns are twined behind each other. They step out from the plane to the third dimension, and by this, their symmetry is distorted, without distorting the general symmetry of the plane shape too much - arabesques are dissymmetric. Space is dissymmetric; were it not originally such, perspective would make it. ''View'' in the space looks symmetric only from a single point . From infinite other points the same ''view'' will be ''distorted''. One does not need to go too far for dissymmetry: it is enough to have a look at our body. Butterflies are much more symmetric than human beings: they prefer symmetric mates, therefore their descendants will inherit more perfect symmetry. For us, human beings, the symmetry of the partner does not belong among the top priorities. Dissymmetric is beautiful, at least in our system of aesthetic values.
Dissymmetry is not only a subject of the arts, but it plays an important role in scientific discoveries. Scientists know that it is much more promising to search for new phenomena, for new laws of nature, where one finds some dissymmetry, than in perfect objects. Dissymmetry is always stimulating to a certain extent, while perfect symmetry does not bid fair to get someone exciting. Most microphysical discoveries in the recent half century were related to symmetry breaking in objects having been supposed to be symmetric. The history of molecular biology, since the discovery of the asymmetric DNA helix, is about a series of explanations of dissymmetric phenomena in living matter. Is it then surprising that all artworks show certain symmetry, but none of those are perfect? Beauty demands dissymmetry. (While dissymmetry presumes the presence of symmetry.) Science explains, art represents it. This is demonstrated by a well-selected group of artists at the exhibition Ars (Dis)Symmetrica '99 organised in the Ernst Museum, Budapest.
There is another approach where the common concepts of arts and science are applied, from the direction of the disciplines. Most of these common concepts are related with form, and the form with geometry, which is obviously a field of mathematics. Geometry, and arithmetic ratios applied in geometry, are the gates to understanding the mentioned common concepts in the sciences. Geometry of the shapes of objects, mathematical descriptions of physical phenomena, phyllotaxis in plant biology, the crystal structure of molecules, stability requirements and synergetics both in our built environment and biological architecture, not speaking of the appearance of the so-called golden section in nature and artifacts, the many disciplines studying these phenomena and the various forms of artistic activity, all these together show the wide palette of colours waiting for the visitor behind this gate. Mathematization is a grateful way to the sciences even in the arts. Therefore, modern art often approaches the sciences via concrete, abstract mathematical methods.
The most apparent movement in the arts towards this direction is represented by constructivism. Modern representatives of this conception developed the best traditions of the foundations of constructivism established several decades ago. They form the core of the exhibition Science Reflected in the Arts - Art in the Sciences organized in the Barcsay Hall, Budapest. They are well extended through the invitation of artists who apply their art to the representation of concrete sciences, like chemistry, biology, or such physical concepts as time, as well as architecture and technological methods, like simulation. Science not only affects the choice of theme by the artists, but it also takes its effect through the applied science-based techniques (like computer or video methods, laser or sun source of light, signal processing, etc.). One can trace an architectonic direction among the exhibits: they partly apply architectural methods to design artwork, while partly they are looking for systemized aesthetic values in the planned environment. This trend is continued in the design of some 3D objects.
There are, among others, two common features of the exhibited works, that brought them together under one roof, and that I would like to stress here.
One of them is the use of the latest computer techniques, in many of the artworks. One can remember several manifestos of different movements in the recent century, which formulated programs and principles for their art. Several of them are reflected in these artworks, many of their principles proved to be valid even today. Most novelties, what the nineties could add to them, are related to the rapid development and widening application of computer technology, both hardware and software. By them projects earlier impossible can be realized, and this makes the artists' fantasy free from limits of realization having existed so far. The present collection demonstrates this in a rarely discernible wide spectrum.
The other common feature to be stressed is the use of a symbol system. The presented works represent a very rich mine of signs, symbols which help to understand the meaning of not necessarily figurative works, stimulate the associations of thoughts of the visitor, help to interpret the message of the artist to our personal mind, and - not neglectable - these symbol systems mediate between the concrete art object and the scientific idea, concept, phenomenon or method expressed by it. Following a particular logical order, the used variety of symbols helps to guide the reader through this catalogue.
The artists participating in this project have been selected and invited by the curators of the exhibitions. The idea of selection was based on the fact that the exhibitions belong to the art program series organized on the occasion of the World Conference on Science, held in Budapest by UNESCO and ICSU, 26 June - 1 July, 1999. The satellite art programs should emphasize the science-art relation in such a wide spectrum as the World Conference encounters the representatives of all disciplines, including excellences in research and also executives and decision-makers in science policy in all countries belonging to the United Nations family. Similar to science, the art program series invited artists who represent different artistic approaches to the sciences, different artistic forms, and different regions and countries around the world. One of the goals was to introduce Hungarian artists to the scientists visiting Hungary on the occasion of the World Conference of Science, and at the same time to provide a forum for the science-inspired artists from all over the world to introduce a rich scale of the science-art palette.
The World Conference and the satellite art program series offered a good opportunity to express the collaboration of science and art managers. The hosting institutions, the Institute for Research Organisation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the International Symmetry Foundation and its institute, the Symmetrion, together with the Palace of Arts in Budapest, and the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, in co-operation with several other art institutions, like the Manager Training Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Craft and Design, the C3 Center for Culture and Communication of the Soros Foundation, and the aDaM Studio have worked together with an extensive team of artists and art curators both in Hungary and abroad to prepare a memorable selection of science-related artworks of the late nineties.
Ars (Dis)Symmetrica '99
Arthur L. Loeb
Chairman of the Advisory Board,
Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and
Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
"There was once, many, many years ago, a young man, ambitious and persistent, named Dalkus, who made up his mind to learn how to turn lead into gold. Dalkus had heard that far away there was an ancient and beautiful woman by the name of Bathilja who knew the secret of transforming lead into gold, and so he set off in search of Bathilja, certain that he could charm her into sharing her secret with him.
Dalkus travelled across streams and mountains, encountering many strange people and animals, through snow and heat, and finally arrived in the country where Bathilja was believed to dwell. Nobody appeared to have heard of Bathilja, but Dalkus knocked on every door, sure that he would recognize Bathilja when he saw her. He combed cities and countryside, called on estates and cottages, and eventually tried a humble shed in a beautiful park. There did not appear to be an entrance to the shed, but Dalkus eventually located a small golden bell, which he rang. There was no response, and after a while he tried again. As we said, Dalkus was persistent, and after several hours of tinkling the golden bell, he noticed a little window opening, through which a horn was thrust out. "What is it? I am sorry, but I am not available. Please leave a message," spoke a lovely voice. Dalkus introduced himself and announced that he had something of great importance to discuss with Bathilja. The voice gently replied that Bathilja was able discuss matters of great importance on the third Thursday of the next month which had two full moons, and that matters of lesser importance could be considered in decreasing degree of importance on following Thursdays.
Well, there was nothing for Dalkus to do but wait, and so he camped in the lovely park beside Bathilja's shed until after several months the horn reappeared in the window, and the mellifluous voice invited Dalkus to state his business. I will not take the reader's time needlessly to detail the arguments which Dalkus needed to use to persuade Bathilja to share her secret of transforming lead into gold. Suffice it to say that the roses in the park appeared and faded many times before Bathilja agreed to instruct Dalkus, and only on condition that he commit the recipe to memory without recording it in writing, for fear that it would fall into the wrong hands.
'Take exactly five grams of lead,' Bathilja began, 'and divide them into two portions whose weights are related by the golden proportion.' Then there followed long sequences of dissolving, heating at precise temperatures, at the exact hours of the rising of the moon, the avoidance of certain holy and evil days, which I would not be at liberty to divulge even if I knew them, and since Bathilja would only work fifty minutes daily, the seasons passed while Dalkus committed his lessons to memory. Finally, the day arrived when Bathilja announced a week's holiday, after which she would give Dalkus his final and crucial instruction.
Dalkus slept most of that week in preparation of his strenuous return trip, and then finally the great day arrived. This time the window opened and Bathilja appeared, radiantly beautiful, so that Dalkus almost regretted that his departure was imminent. 'Dalkus,' she said in her gentle, yet resonant voice, 'have you committed the entire procedure to memory?' Dalkus replied that he had. 'Well, why don't you recite it for me so that I can be sure that you have it correct, and I won't be blamed if you are not successful?' For hours, Dalkus recited what he had learned during all those long months. When he had finished, Bathilja approved, and then told him to pay very close attention to her final, and most crucial instruction. 'While you go through the procedure you have just recited, you are never, but never to think of a camel!' she said, and closed her window!"
This is a story, which I tell my students when they inform me that their art instructors teach them to avoid symmetry. How can they avoid symmetry without thinking of symmetry? Perfect symmetry is a state of equilibrium, hence static. Dissymmetry represents a perturbation of perfect symmetry; its perception sets up forces pulling toward a symmetrical equilibrium.
An aperiodic phenomenon may, through Fourier analysis, be expressed as the superposition of a symmetrical and an anti-symmetrical component (cosine and sine functions), whose graphic representations have, respectively, mirror and twofold rotational symmetry around the origin. When Fourier analysis indicates a spectrum of about equal proportions of mirror-symmetrical and of twofold symmetrical components, the pattern will not appear symmetrical, but when one or the other type of component prevails, the pattern will look nearly symmetrical. Thus the concept of Fourier analysis and the fact that a function which displays no symmetry may be expressed as the superposition of a symmetrical and an antisymmetrical component enable us to quantify the dissymmetry of a near-symmetrical pattern.
There are many reasons why artists and designers, scientists and engineers, architects and psychologists are interested in symmetry, asymmetry and dissymmetry. From a practical point of view, mass production leads to modular construction, and symmetry theory tells us which modules will or will not fit together, and provides a wide repertoire to fit appropriate modules together. We find much symmetry in nature, in plants, flowers and crystals, because intrinsically identical building blocks such as atoms, ions, seeds and petals will create identical force fields around themselves and therefore assemble into symmetrical arrays.
There are also aesthetical reasons, however, for using and designing symmetrical patterns. Rhythm, the temporal repetition of modules, is indispensable in dance, one of the oldest manifestations of civilization. Symmetrical patterns are balanced, reassuring, stable. However, without some degree of dissymmetry they can become tedious: dissymmetry creates forces pulling toward symmetry, hence tensions and dynamics. Some crystal imperfections are necessary to make metals ductile, and to create semiconductors. Our perceptions tend to focus primarily on symmetry and secondarily on dissymmetry, with the result that we perceive structure hierarchically. What Bathilja taught Dalkus is that, no matter how we want to concentrate on achieving a goal, the very concepts, which might interfere with that goal, will prove unavoidable. The very conscious avoidance of symmetry necessitates consideration of symmetry!
Science Reflected in the Arts - Art in the Sciences
On Change and Cohesion
A call for a serious study of the interaction between art and science
President, PRO Foundation,
Member of the Advisory Board of the International Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Symmetry (ISIS-Symmetry)
Art and science are not the same; however, they can and should be understood as compatible. The common attitude is that science deals with the important questions of life and art does not. Art may be beautiful and interesting but not necessary. But, is this really all? Both science and art (and philosophy) concern explorations about ourselves and our world, created by human beings, with human bodies, brains, senses, emotions. Every step in science and in art is a combination of cultural background, Zeitgeist-related influences and interests, with individual intuitions, individual levels of knowledge and individual material (im)possibilities. No scientist, no artist can avoid impacts on oneís being, thinking and feeling of the complex and dynamic processes of the whole of macro- and micro-nature. No human being can only live, think, sense and argue in the confinement of oneís skull or even inside oneís own body. While collecting our thoughts, by trying to find solutions, by desiring to understand, at some point we seem to need to project our thoughts and considerations outside ourselves into our immediate environment. The action of projection outside ourselves does not merely concern the projection of a kind of final conclusion. This projection is part of our decision-making process as it amplifies our reflection capabilities. It takes multiple forms, like in speech, writing, unreadable scribbles, diagrams, models, drawings, paintings, sculpture, music, dance, etc. or in any physical action. In principle all possible ways of communication exist to cope with the desire to understand life itself and the world by enhancing our own thinking process. The process of thinking of any human being - including scientists and artists - is a process of intuitive thoughts, an enhancement of these thoughts by projection and reflection, making these thoughts more clear. If our acquirement of more knowledge did not depend on constant reflection and projection, we would need no mathematics, no written language, no scientific models, no diagrams, no computer visualisations, no art. This process of reflection and projection is the human creative process. It is a learning process of self-argumentation with the simple mission to survive by understanding life and ourselves somewhat better. Needless to say, the scientific model and the artwork are essential, too, as they incorporate the conclusion at a particular moment. They are frozen moments of the continuous quest for better understanding. The difference is: while a scientific model is the carrier of a scientific theory, art is that of a more personal interpretation. The scientific model and the artwork are both results of processes inside ourselves in immediate interaction with the projections before our eyes. As a result, both in scientific models and in artworks similar aesthetic means are applied. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that sometimes when you are confronted with an abstract object without having been explained what it is, you may be tempted to consider it an artwork, although in fact it is a scientific model. Or, the other way round. The cliché idea that art is something which the artist spilled out from his/her deep inside is incorrect, as neither an artist can live his/her emotions and thoughts only inside the body. Any artwork is the result of projection, reflection, refinement and conclusion. Just as the creation of a scientific model. For many obvious reasons it is clear that art will never be able to save lives or bring a spaceship safely into orbit. Art - especially, but not only, abstract art - can provide a better understanding of the complexity and richness of very abstract notions of reality. Therefore, art can support our general knowledge of life, the world and ourselves and support the explorations in science. Maybe as a kind of visual philosophy. Examples of abstract notions explored in art, also substantial to modern science, are change and cohesion. In science an important issue is to understand the cohesion of the parts - or a particular part - to the whole. Like in understanding the functioning of a particular neurone in the brain in its complex interactions with the rest of the brain, the whole body and the influences of processes interacting with the body from the outside (like the weather or the seasons). One can summarise this as the problem of the complex interaction of universal and individual properties; the problem that forms an essential part of the complex processes of change in nature. Although it may still sound strange, cohesion and change taking forms and colours with clear universal properties in a strict individual way, have studied in art already for a long time. Harmony in an artwork is synonymous to cohesion; the simulation of change in an artwork creates the visual tension that makes an artwork exciting. Cohesion and change are thus fundamental aspects of making a good, i.e. exciting, beautiful or meaningful artistic composition. Something which we sense to be true, which we perceive as good or beautiful. Just like the general observation in science about "good", "beautiful" or "elegant solutions". A composition in art is a combination of pictorial elements that individually have no particular meaning and present a meaningful whole only in their cohesion.
Unfortunately, most scientists and most artists do not seem to be aware of the compatibility of their fields. Nevertheless, it should not be surprising that there are exceptions both in art and in science. In the 19th century scientific and philosophical discussions on the will, the processes or the structure of nature, on the object versus the subject, on matter itself, led to art experiments with the fragmentation of the world into modules whose interactions create the whole. Such, for instance, Cézanneís "modulations" or Seuratís and Signacís pointillism. Later furthered by their followers, these led to Mondriaanís famous Neo-Plastic paintings that provide us with well found dynamic equilibria of only a few lines and colours. Other pioneers of abstract art were inspired by theories of light, the perception of colour, the continuum, the lines of force of electromagnetism, the curvature of space/time, space/time as a fourth dimensional concept, cosmic processes, the non-existence of solid matter or cell-theory. The discovery of X-rays and space/time theories, for instance, inspired the early cubists and futurists to explore the use of interacting planes shifting over and through each other. Kandinskyís famous essay on "The Point, the Line to the Plane" can clearly be understood in the light of the interest in science of his days (scientists discussed particles as points, trajectories of particles and of light in terms of lines, etc.). Artists like the constructivists in Central and Eastern Europe explored concepts from astronomy and space/time theories by studying strong simulations of motion in their painting, sculpture and architectural concepts. Ever since, one can find artists interested in exploring aspects that can be linked to hot concepts in modern science, like complexity, quantum-fields, structure or order at depth, emergence, N-dimensionality, etc. This exhibition will provide you with an introduction to how artists today approach some of these problems.
It is no simple enterprise to realise the necessary dialogue between art and science. Traditional art-history and art-theory cannot provide the necessary means. Their desire for an academic approach in general focuses too much on the analysis of the artwork in strict isolation, regardless of the Zeitgeist-related influences and inspirations from other fields. Influences which are often very vague, but essential nevertheless. Since modern science has become so very abstract, visualisation has become crucial in many fields, as is proved by the advancement of computerised visualisation. Already this aspect makes it strictly spoken very odd that science does not try to learn more from the field that does nothing else than visualising highly abstract notions. By its visual exploration of tackling abstract problems free from any academic or empirical restrain art can provide science with possible new clues for understanding complex abstract problems. A clearer dialogue with science will provide artists with a better understanding of the reasons for and contents of their own work. It seems time to call for a serious study of the relationship between art and science.