Out of a lecture I gave for students of Sarah Bennett some interesting contacts came forth. Together with Sue Austin, Josie Gould and Trish Wheatley I am preparing some short presentations.

At 22 March we met for a performative meeting. More to follow soon!

Most of these photos were made by Trish.

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Last week had some unexpected visitors from Belgium: curator Christophe De Jaeger and artist Bart Stolle.

We connected further with We’re all friends here and made some observations in the hallway.

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Interesting meeting today with Dan Jones on We’re all friends here, “a contemporary photographic collective”. Their logo mysteriously popped up in the Spot On space and disappeared just as mysteriously which made me very curious.

We’re all friends here “came together and created something around the simple fact that we’re all photographers, and all good friends.” They have a show coming up that is curated by Dan who is a graphic designer, is leading the group and also designed the logo and accompanying book.

Their show opens Wednesday 17th March at 5pm, Scott Building 2nd floor, Plymouth

View wereallfriendshere.co.uk to see who are the other members and what they make.

Last Friday the table and chair were removed and someone had left a saw and a pencil on the ground…

On Wednesday 23 February I held my first session from 10 – 11 am. The first obvious result: the Scott Building might need some indication where to find offices and rooms. During the hour I was observing I met several people of staff with whom I will meet at another time, I got one suggestion for another use of the space and clearly quite a lot of people thought I was reception. I answered them every time that although I was not, I was happy to help them.

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The performance and collaboration piece ‘The Curator’s Present’ researches the basic requirements for a curatorial practice. It consists of a series of collaborative performances with Plymouth based artist Rachel Dobbs and interviews with the ‘inhabitants’ of the Scott Building where Spot On takes place.

View below the official handing over of the amulet that Rachel Dobbs made for ‘The Curator’s Present’. Photos Hannah Jones.

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This presentation focuses on ‘field work’ and ‘field trips’ with the aim to establish links between the Arts and Science, that may lead to student and staff engagement in shared teaching experiences and which may grow interdisciplinary research.

The presentation is made on the occasion of the research event ‘Field Trip’ that took place on Friday 17 December getting people together to map out field trip destinations and to create a platform for collaborations. It is on show till half January 2011.

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On show is work by Deborah Robinson and Lucy + Jorge Orta.

The pinhole photos by Deborah Robinson were made during her residency at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge in March 2007. Pinhole cameras were placed in laboratories and corridors. With the aperture left open for long periods – sometimes up to 3 hours – these cameras became a kind of ‘silent witness’ to the space.

Data Unveiling (again on view in January) is based on the relationship between zebra fish and genetic data generated through their use as biomedical models in pigmentation research carried out in Dr Robert Kelsh’s laboratory, Department of Bioscience and Biochemistry, University of Bath. It was produced collaboratively by artists David Strang and Deborah Robinson, and developed in consultation with Dr Kelsh.

Work in the Kelsh laboratory aims to understand the genetic basis for development of pigment cells, and what goes wrong in pigmentation disorders. A major project in the laboratory includes the classic iterative process between experimental observation and mathematical modelling to try to unravel the logic of pigment cell development. It is this mathematical modelling, in essence strings of numbers describing changes in the levels of expression of multiple genes over time, that provides a direct input into the work displayed.  The mathematical modelling used here was developed by mathematical biologist Dr Andrea Rocco and Dr Kelsh. The challenge in making this work was to evidence the science in a creative response to it.

The artwork is shown on 2 separate screens. On the left hand screen is data representing the model’s output in a wild type fish (the control) and, on the right, the output for fish mutant at the mitfa gene (where 2 dark blank vertical columns appear). In the science, it is the comparison of the outputs from the models that illuminates gene function.

Each video has been constructed using 2 layers. On each, data slowly scrolls in, operating as a veil concealing and revealing underlying footage of the shadowy movements of the zebra fish, originally filmed in Dr Kelsh’s laboratory.

The data is used to generate a video matrix. Each figure within the data file is read into the matrix and scaled to the standard information required for pixel brightness (0 – 255).  The result is a video matrix where each pixel is created at the brightness according to the data within the file, and fills the matrix according to the structure of the columns of data in the file.  This is then mixed with the video images of zebra fish by dividing and subtracting one video matrix from the other.

The sound is created through applying the data files to hydrophone recordings made inside the fish tanks using the process of granular synthesis. The data, when applied to an audio sample, selects and manipulates particles of sound.

The flow of data, as it gradually reveals the images of fish, metaphorically parallels ways in which the mathematical modelling serves to clarify our understanding of the genetics in an observed reality.

The three posters by Lucy + Jorge Orta originate from their project Perpetual Amazonia. In 2009, the Paris-based artists visited the Manú Biosphere Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon, where they catalogued and photographed vulnerable species of flora and fauna. Each image in Perpetual Amazonia is bordered by a series of numbers, known as Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates, which denote the featured plant’s exact location on the surface of the world, down to the nearest square-meter subplot in the reserve. A sign asks us to ‘become collective stewards’ of the area; as well as making a donation, visitors can travel to the particular subplots and participate in the conservation of the plants.

Perpetual Amazonia was shown in the Amazonia exhibition that was in the Natural History Museum in London this autumn. The show was inspired by the Andes expedition organized by Cape Farewell in 2009 in which the artists took part.

Working in collaboration with scientists at the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), Oxford University, a crew of 18 international artists and scientists spent three weeks visiting multiple science stations across a transect of the Andes witnessing Peru’s unique landscape of glaciers, cloud forests and rain forests investigating how climate change is effecting the various ecosystems they encountered.

The expedition started at the Salcantay Glacier, east of Cuzco. After the icy beauty of the glacier, the group switched landscape from ice to forest, beginning to trek down to the Madre de Dios, from a height of 3,500m above sea level through the Puna, cloud forest and Trocha Union before entering the Amazon Basin.

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If ‘Spot On’ is about the big in the small and vice versa then sooner or later Mandelbrot and fractals had to be mentioned. Unfortunately it is sooner than expected as Benoit Mandelbrot died 14 October.

The obituary below was written by his nephew. Also watch Benoit Mandelbrot: Fractals and the art of roughness.


Benoit Mandelbrot, the French and American mathematician who passed away two nights ago, was born in Warsaw. He and his family fled away from Hitler to France in 1936 where he was greeted by his uncle, the mathematician Szolem Mandelbrojt, professor at Collège de France. After having been a student at Ecole Polytechnique he did linguistics and proved the Zipf law.

He was an extremely original scientist who with the invention of fractals created a new branch of mathematics that has applications in numerous fields of science and art. His unconventional approach was fully encouraged when he came to IBM. He was Sterling Professor Emeritus of mathematical sciences at Yale University and IBM fellow emeritus at IBM T.J. Watson Research Centre.

The concept of fractals, as Benoit Mandelbrot, liked to emphasize, unites and gives a solid mathematical framework to ideas, which artists, scientists and philosophers of art have often felt more or less clearly.

Let me start with this very striking quotation from Eugene Delacroix’s Journal in 1857 (1):

“Swedenborg asserts in his theory of nature, that each of our organs is made up of similar parts, thus our lungs are made up of several minute lungs, our liver is made up of small livers…. Without being such a great observer of nature I realized this long time ago: I often said that each branch of a tree is a complete small tree, that fragments of rocks are similar to the big rock itself, that each particle of earth is similar to a big heap of earth. I am convinced that we could find many such similarities. A feather is made up of million of small feathers…”.

This description by Delacroix corresponds to what will become clearly defined in the concept of fractals.

Similarly René Huyghe in his book “Formes et Forces”(2) (Shapes and Forces) makes a distinction between art based on shapes, actually shapes which can be described by Euclidian geometry such as are encountered in Classical art, and art based on the action of forces, for instance shapes which are encountered in waves, in tourbillions etc; these shapes correspond to Baroque art. These shapes also appear in several of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings. With the discovery or invention of the concept of fractals (about the same year Huyghe’s book was published) we could now assert that both Classical and

Baroque art can be described geometrically, the first one by Euclidian geometry, the second one by fractal geometry.

In sciences as Benoit Mandelbrot mentioned, both the mathematician Henri Poincaré, and physicist Jean Perrin pointed out the fact that many fundamental phenomena cannot be given a proper causal description because of their complexity. Here again fractals give an adequate framework to these phenomena, just as it is the appropriate framework for describing chaos.

Fractals give a precise mathematical framework to complex phenomena, and in particular to the description of complex curves. A simple usual curve when looked at one point from very close, can be identified to its tangent, in other words to a straight line. Other more complicated curves look the same from very close or from afar, this is called self-similarity, and it corresponds to fractal curves, an example being the coast of Brittany. These curves are very complex looking and their degree of complexity is defined by their fractal dimension (or Hausdorff dimension): A usual plane curve has fractal dimension 1, and as it becomes more and more complex, its fractal dimension, which isn’t necessarily a whole number, increases until it becomes 2.

With technology, fractal shapes surprisingly sometimes appear on the screen of computers. Benoit Mandelbrot was the first one to be surprised when he saw the shapes of what was to become the Mandelbrot set, appear as resulting from an equation. This is the origin of fractal art that has become a main branch of computer art.

Thus fractals have two different domains in art: traditional art which can be described by fractals, as I mentioned in René Huyghe’s book, and art which is made to be fractal, generally by using computers.

To conclude I would suggest that the universal appeal of fractals might correspond to the fact that it can subconsciously imply that the small part of the world that we are, is an image of the whole world, in other words that we are a microcosm.

Jacques Mandelbrojt, 16th of October 2010

(1) Delacroix E.  Journal, Paris, Plon 1986

(2) Huyghe R. Formes et Forces, Paris, Flammarion, 1971

Source: YASMIN, Arts Science Mediterranean International Network



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