It’s hard to believe that in this day and age that there are things that humans are still struggling to control or predict. Among those things are nonlinear systems that contemporary scientists are now learning to accept. An exhibition, “Turbulent Landscapes”, at San Francisco’s art and science museum, the Exploratorium, consists of more than twenty pieces of artworks which depict the wonders of nonlinear systems, specifically natural phenomena. It’s “an exhibition that touches on compelling questions about complexity, the emergence of order and disorder in the universe, and our perception of that process” (Wilson 235). Rather than focus on the whole exhibition, my focus is on one of the pieces of artwork within the exhibition: Salt Piece by Jorg Lenzlinger, which plays with the idea of predictability in our world.
Salt Piece is a display of fragile structures created spontaneously from various solutions of salts and weighing 400lbs in total. Salt-type things (ranging from copper, chrome, and ordinary table salt) are mixed with water and slowly formulate upwards on paper tubes, onto surrounding fabrics, and down suspended cotton strings. These saturated solutions can also crawl out of their containers, spread out, and can shoot into the air. The salt crystallizes when the water in the mixed solution evaporates. The fascination is in the resulting and ever-growing structure: there are many tiny crystals that build upon each other rather than one single enlarging crystal. The appearance of the structure (like color and character) depends on the type of salt utilized in the composition of the liquids. Just by adding a little bit any certain substance, the whole formation can transform completely. Even the temperature, humidity, air movement, carrier-material, and starting point can influence the growth.
The main idea is that it is not possible to exactly recreate the same process of salt crystals. It is impossible to calculate the process by formulas; the only thing one can do is to work with and observe the salt and the slow changes. This can be applied to nonlinear systems in general. It is just something that has to be accepted because these phenomena are beyond our control. With this in mind, artists can create fascinating pieces with the understanding of the sciences behind these systems, like the pieces in the “Turbulent Landscapes” exhibition. Nature’s intricateness is exposed as scientists and artists realize that everything happens due to a certain bond between order and chaos. Due to tools given by technology today, they can now perceive the rhythms and patterns in places which before were just chaos and disorder. Perhaps it won’t be long at all before we can actually understand and predict nonlinear systems with these emerging patterns.