|Rebecca Kamen, NeuroCantos, an installation at Greater Reston Arts Center
Six years ago, The Elemental Garden, an exhibition at Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE) prompted me to start blogging about art. Like TED talks, the news of something so visually fascinating and mentally stimulating as Rebecca Kamen’s integration of art with sciences needs to spread. GRACE presented her work in 2009 and did a followup exhibition, Continuum, which closed February 13, 2016.
|Rebecca Kamen, Lobe, Digital print of silkscreen, 15″ x 22″
Like the Elemental Garden, Kamen’s new works visually evoke and replicate scientific principles. For the non-scientist and the scientist, the works and their presentation are fascinating. Kamen worked with a British poet and a composer/musician from Portland, Oregon, each with similar intellectual interests.
Two prints included in the show create a dialogue between her design and the words of poet Steven Fowler. I like how the idea of gray matter is overlapped by darker conduits, in Lobe, above. There’s a wonderful sense of density and depth.
While her last exhibition at GRACE was mainly about the Periodic table in chemistry, this time Rebecca Kamen’s exhibition included additional themes such as neural connectivity, gravitational pull, black holes and other mysteries of the universe. Why use art to talk about science? In a statement for Continuum, Kamen starts with a quote by Einstein: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
Both art and science are creative endeavors that start with questions. One time Kamen told me that she knows there is some connection between the design of the human brain and the design of the solar system, that has not yet been explained. NeuroCantos, the installation shown in the photo on top, explores this relationship. Floating, hanging cone-like structures made of mylar represent the neuronal networks in the brain, while circular shapes below symbolize the similarity of pattern between the brain and outer space, the micro and macro scales. It investigates “how the brain creates a conduit between inner and outer space through its ability to perceive similar patterns of complexity,” Kamen explained in an interview for SciArt in America, December 2015. The installation brings together neuroscience and astrophysics, but it’s initial spark came from a dialogue with poet Fowler. (They met as fellows at the Salzburg Global Seminar last February and participated in a 5-day seminar exploring The Art of Neuroscience.)
|Rebecca Kamen, Portals, 2014, Mylar and fossils
Nearby another installation, Portals, also features suspended cones hanging over orbital patterns on the floor. The installation interprets the tracery patterns of the orbits of black holes, and it celebrates the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s discovery of general relativity. It’s inspired by gravitational wave physics. To me, it’s just beautiful. I can’t pretend to really understand the rest. The entire exhibit is collaborative in nature, with Susan Alexjander, composer, recreating sounds originating from outer space. The combination of sound, slow movement and suspension is mesmerizing.
Terry Lowenthal made a video projection of “Moving Poems” excerpts from Steven Fowler’s poems and a quote from Santiago Ramon y Cajal, artist and neuroscientist.
There are also earlier works by Kamen, mainly steel and wire sculptures. With names like Synapse, Wave Ride: For Albert and Doppler Effect, they obviously mimic scientific effects as she interprets them. Doppler Effect, 2005, appears to replicate sound waves drawing contrast in how they are experienced from near or far away.
|Rebecca Kamen, Doppler Effect, 2005, steel and copper wire
Kamen is Professor Emeritus at Northern Virginia Community College. She has been an artist-in-residence at the National Institutes of Health. She did research Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics and at the Cajal Institute in Madrid. Her art has been featured throughout the country; while her thoughts and concepts have been shared around the world.
For more information, check out www.rebeccakamen.com, www.oursounduniverse.com (Susan Alexjander) and www.stevenjfowler.com
The Elemental Garden
|Elemental Garden, 2011, mylar, fiberglass rods
(The following is how I described it while writing the original blog back in 2010) Sculptor Rebecca Kamen has taken the elemental table to create a wondrous work of art. The beautiful floating universe of Divining Nature: The Elemental Garden–recently shown at Greater Reston Area Arts Center (GRACE)–is based on the formulas of 83 elements in chemistry. Its amazing that an artist can transform factual information into visual poetry with a lightweight, swirling rhythm of white flowers.
According to Kamen, she had the inspiration upon returning home from Chile. After 2 years of research, study and contemplation, she built 3-dimensional flowers based upon the orbital patterns of each atom of all 83 elements in nature, using Mylar to form the petals and thin fiberglass rods to hold each flower together. The 83 flowers vary in size, with the simplest elements being smallest and the most complex appearing larger. The infinite variety of shapes is like the varieties possible in snowflakes; the uniform white mylar material connects them, but individually they are quite different.
|Rebecca Kamen, The Elemental Garden, 2009, as installed in GRACE in 2009 (from artist’s website)
One could walk in the garden and feel a mystical sensation in the arrangement of flowers, as intriguing as the “floral arrangement” of each single element. After awhile I discovered that the atomic flowers were installed in a pattern based upon the spiral pattern of Fibonacci’s sequence. Medieval writer Leonardo Fibonacci and ancient Indian mathematicians had discovered the divine proportion present in nature. This mystical phenomenon explains the spirals we see in nature: the bottom of a pine cone, the spirals of shells and the interior of sunflowers among other things. Greeks also created this pattern in the “golden section” which defines the measured harmony of their architecture. Kamen wanted to replicate this beauty found in nature
Kamen likened her flowers to the pagodas she had seen in Burma. However, there is an even more interesting, interdisciplinary connection. Research on the Internet brought Kamen to a musician, Susan Alexjander of Portland, OR, who composes music derived from Larmor Frequencies (radio waves)emitted from the nuclei of atoms and translated into tone. Alexjander collaborated, also, and her sound sequences were included with the installation. Putting music and art together with science mirrors the universe and it is pure pleasure to experience this mystery of creation.