Natural Phenomenon—Visualizing and Interpreting the Physical World Through Art

With regards to the pursuit of truth and heightened understanding, science and art converge in the sense that both subjects simultaneously act as guides to better understanding our world. Particularly, when it comes to interpreting and appreciating natural phenomenon, artists modeling such physical systems are able to capture the staggering beauty of our pattern-drenched world while also forging a deeper understanding in both the viewer and the creator.

One artist devoted to representing and understanding the complexity of the physical world is Ned Kahn. Inspired by atmospheric physics, geology, fluid motion, and utilizing elements such as fog, fire, water, and sand, Kahn strives to create artworks that allow viewers to interact and observe natural processes. One such work, presented in 2011 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago IL, is entitled Avalanche. A sculpture powered by a large engine, Avalanche consists of a rotating steel plate 20 feet in diameter filled with glass beads and garnet sand. This rotation causes the sand to naturally fall and create ever-changing stunning patterns. Furthermore, viewers are able to actively change the nature of these patterns by controlling the speed of the rotation. By allowing interactivity in a science-based piece such as this, Kahn further manages to interest and engross the spectator in the naturally occurring phenomenon depicted. Although this particular artwork evokes awareness and awe with regards to the fluid-like nature of falling granules, nearly all of Kahn’s art focuses on pulling the attention of the viewers to the complexity and beauty of the elements.

One other such piece by Kahn is titled The Sonic Pool, encourages children and their parents to focus on the ways in which sound/vibration influences water, being installed in the Children’s Garden of the Huntington Beach Botanical Garden in San Marino, California (2004). Made up of a 5 foot in diameter steel bowl filled with water and an air-powered oscillator, visitors can see and feel how different vibrations affect the surface of the water.

As seen in the video, Sound Garden effectively conjures deep curiosity and enjoyment in the happy children surrounding it.

Lastly, artwork dealing in natural phenomenon and the nature of the physical world seem to hold a special role. Indeed, such installations try to and are capable of instilling in the viewer a fascination and deeper understanding of the natural world. With only simple materials, such art also appears to be able of doing this to the public in a digestible and simple manner. As not everyone is old enough nor has the patience to research natural phenomenon by reading articles in a scientific journal, art like that of Ned Kahn is integral in promoting interest and awareness in science to the general public.

– Dorian Koehring


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