How digital is ushering in a new visual culture for the sciences

When dealing with the theme of metamorphosis, drawing connections between the development of art forms and cultural change is irresistible. The relation between art, technology and science has been a curious one throughout history. Technology, a product of science, has had a profound affect on the development of art forms in various ways.

Part of an artist’s creative process is to make continuous decisions regarding the relations between space and colour, in respect to each other and in respect to boundaries. For the past sixty years, computer technology has been redefining these limits and boundaries for artists, resulting in an ongoing transformation of our cultural landscape.

Digital is a new frontier; art dealers don’t yet know how to sell the stuff. The value of digital art is not yet measured in pounds. The transition from fine to digital art, incorporating science and technology, is understood as a necessary phase if there is to emerge a new ‘original’ for artistic form, or even a new wave of art genius.


Lambert’s Music of the Spheres

Dr Nick Lambert’s digital art students at Birkbeck would perhaps agree that his works are a candid refection of his whirling intellect. He has an unusual ability to bring together a myriad of complex dimensions and jarring ideas to create visual experiences which, while being intensive and replete, succeed at being harmonic. The Music of the Spheres is an ongoing collaborative project between Lambert and his uncle, Jeff Rees, who’s a poet and artist.

“This installation re-imagines the ancient Greek concept of planetary harmonies as an integrated virtual universe with a three dimensional soundscape. It contrasts the idealised cosmology of the Pythagorean Music of the Spheres with the current state of our planet,” Lambert said.

This piece has been designed to be projected inside an immersive dome-like space, currently being developed by a team of digitally creative scientists and artists. This new concept is called ‘fulldome’ and combines artistic, scientific and technological skills to create an immersive space which will be used for exhibitions, concerts and festivals in the near future.

Lambert’s Musical Sphere:

Video and featured image from Nick Lambert’s blog 

Lambert recommends readers check out the works of William Latham, who’s one of the first UK artists to create computer art. His work blends organic imagery and computer animation, using software modeled upon the processes of evolution. Starting with a simple shape, Latham introduces random ‘mutations’ of a form in order to generate increasingly complex three-dimensional creations that resemble fantastical, futuristic organisms.

Mutator 1 + 2 is Latham’s first major exhibition in the UK in over twenty years, and includes his early hand-drawn work, large computer generated Cibachrome prints, video art and his most recent interactive projected imagery that explores and embodies evolutionary processes in physical and virtual space.

Nick Lambert on art and technology for Artefact:

Self-propagating Visual Forms

A scientist detects patterns while an artist makes them; however, in peculiar circumstances art becomes a necessary tool in the scientific process. As an academic, Andrew Lincoln Nelson, explores the use of ‘artificial evolution’ to evolve ‘neural networks’ (the nervous system) with the aim of controlling small ‘autonomous robots’.

From the Living Robot series by Andrew L. NelsonIntrigued by the idea of autonomous robots, and wanting to know more, I attempted to read a paper by Dr Nelson and found it was far too technical to understand. I was thrilled, however, to discover his collection of artworks online, which includes detailed drawings of ‘creature-like machines’ that provide an intriguing insight into a unreal, yet perhaps possible, vision of future on Earth.


The Living Robots
 series includes detailed graphite drawings ofLiving Robots machine-like creatures in futuristic or post-human landscapes.
Each drawing in the series explores the bounds of possible life,
what makes us alive, and which aspects of humanity might be shared with non-human living intelligences.

Aspects of the work challenge existing concepts by blending elements of machine, plant and animal.
From the Living Robot series by Andrew L. NelsonIn the drawings, the machine-creatures have metamorphosed beyond their biological origins and have become
artificial, self-perpetuating life forms.

“My work includes complex realistic or surrealistic graphite drawings and conceptual mixed-media abstract paintings. The main subjects of the drawings are machines or partially machine creatures. These are situated in landscapes, some of which are drawn from southwest desert and mountain views, and others which reflect a less Earthly aspect,” said Nelson.

Images from Andrew Nelson Robotics

Abstract work on paper

Other artworks by Andrew L. Nelson focus on the microscopic world of cells and plants, and explore “the relationship between form and scale, and the interplay between shapes.” These works combine mixed media on paper or board laminated with paper and include drawn elements, opaque shapes and aqueous wash.

Images from Andrew Nelson’s artwork

“Direct emotional or visceral response to visual stimuli is a common theme in these paintings: they are intended to elicit a combination of sensations associated with viewing organic forms such as growing roots or developing bodies”

“The spread of a particular tree’s branches in winter may elicit one combination of emotions, while the crown of a leafless desert tree may be associated with a very different set of emotions.  Complexity in natural patterns holds particular interest for me. We may be drawn toward the beauty of a mist-covered spider’s web or a field of wildflowers, or lichen on a rock. These things draw us in different ways and with different forms of fascination and emotion.”

Nelson is based in Tuscon, Arizona. His work is showcased regularly at exhibitions in the USA. These drawings are just a few from his Living Robot series that have been used in various popular and scientific presentations, including Keith Downing’s TED talk on Evolutionary Computation and Gray Scott’s recent keynote presentation at the 2014 World Future Society Conference, as well as other academic and popular presentations on robotics and artificial intelligence.

Making Art in the Digital Age

Tom Kemp is an artist using computers in various ways. He ‘allowed’ himself the use of these technologies when he realised they could provide tools which would otherwise be physically impossible to make. Software often attempts to mimic real tools and does so ever more impressively.

Kemp, though, prefers to tweak the digital brushes until they no longer represent anything which could be created in the physical world. He also writes software for creating images, based on physical laws but, again, altered to make his digital universe behave differently from anything we would experience in reality.

Some images from Kemp’s Particle Painter software:

Images from Tom Kemp’s website

Tom Kemp talking to Artefact on being a digital artist:

Kemp met Nick Lambert at a lecture that Lambert gave in Oxford several years ago. They collaborated on an installation of Kemp’s Particle Painter software, bouncing the dynamic tracks around the complex interior of a church, with a powerful projector.

The following video shows what happened when they turned the projector on to a plate glass door: