Week 5 Response/ Traversing Unpredictability in the Physical World

Engineering and physics have become increasingly major fields of scientific study that partially aim to control and manipulate the forces that construct the physical world. In order to further progress into an age where applied research towards these fields can help approach complete knowledge of the workings of the world and all it encompasses, it becomes necessary to push beyond our current understanding. However, an attempt at this objective can prove to be quite difficult since “some systems are nonlinear. Slight perturbations can have profound effects on the systems, which makes them hard to predict. Artists find the body of speculation fascinating because it seems to open new windows of communication between the arts and sciences” (Wilson 235). In this sense, artists are able find inspiration from the unknown depths of engineering and physical sciences with an effort to explore unpredictability and possibly touch upon new areas of knowledge.

Once such artist, mentioned in the reading, Ned Kahn, has created pieces that “enable viewers to observe and interact with natural processes. [He] is less interested in creating an alternative reality than [he is] in capturing, through [his] art, the mysteriousness of the world around” (Kahn 238). A few perfect examples of Kahn’s works that deal with traversing the fields of physics and engineering with the intent of also establishing his pieces as artworks are the Rain Oculus, which is a constructed 70-foot diameter acrylic bowl that falls 2 stories and demonstrates the formation of a large whirlpool that is always changing in shape and intensity based on the pumps that direct water into the bowl, and the Feather Wall, which is a kinetic shade structure composed of 5029 tilted aluminum vanes that sway in the wind and seeks to dissolve the boundary between architecture and atmosphere (Ned Kahn). Both pieces, out of the many that Kahn has created, are altered and transformed in response to the differing conditions of the environment at a current time. Through his pieces, Kahn is able to incorporate innumerable elements of physics and engineering to further explore the unpredictability of nature which shapes his pieces, as well as provide opportunities to expose the general public to a few of the many factors that build up the physical world.

Artists that engage in the sciences of the physical world, such as Kahn, are able to “frame and enhance our perception of natural phenomena”. They are able to demonstrate certain patterns that emerge when things flow. These patterns are not static objects, rather, they are patterns of behavior – recurring themes in the repertoire of nature (Kahn 238). The work and efforts that artists implement are indeed other practices that contribute back to the intention of engineering and sciences to push current knowledge and ultimately manipulate some of the components that forge the physical world. The work that is produced from these artists help bring to light aspects of the unpredictability and nature of the world to society and modern scientific culture.




~ Amber Tang 🙂


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