How to see a cloud(s)
Jan. - Apr. 2019 | Thesis Project | Art Installation
How to see a cloud(s) is the thesis project I completed for my MFA degree in Design and Technology program at Parsons School of Design. It is an art installation featuring a volumetric paper sculpture and a dual-channel video projection. As the sole creator of this piece, I looked into clouds as an example of natural fractal structure and used it as a point of departure to consider and explore the possibilities of artwork inspired by scientific theory. This piece was exhibited at the "Prism - MFADT Annual Thesis Show" in May 2019.
Fractal, Science, Art, Paper Sculpture, Projection Mapping, Video Production, Craftsmanship
Paper, Glue, Laser Cutting, Wire, Projector, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.
Impetus: What Interests Me as An Artist
I started my thesis journey by looking into patterns in nature. Speaking more specifically of fractal structure, I am intrigued by it as an underlying geometry across the universe. Cloud, seashell, snowflake, lightning, broccoli: though bearing a highly elaborate structure, fractals are actually pretty common in nature. When staring at this wonder of nature, you are actually not only seeing the dots, lines, shapes, angles but also the information coded inside that needs to be excavated, defined, and applied.
The natural world is awash in physical patterns: tidal waves, moon phases, spider webs, water ripples, respiration, heartbeat, and more. I am interested in the vast possibilities of decoding these patterns and converting them into eligible forms that could potentially instruct our social activities, solve engineering problems, and ultimately enhance our interaction with nature and each other.
Significance: Why It Matters to All of Us
The initial questions that I was trying to figure out are simply “How could clouds be fractals as they appear to be so irregular and amorphous?” and “If clouds are fractals, then how should we divide and count them?” As I gained more insight while processing my research, I became convinced that the ultimate questions I am asking in my thesis are something that all of us should be concerned with, though it is much more comprehensive and profound compared with seeing a cloud. I am investigating questions regarding the composition and construction of this world. What insights could we gain from fractals to build our city infrastructures and social organizations? What wisdom could we learn from fractals to reshape the way we think and understand this dynamic world?
What am I creating?
How to see a cloud(s) is an art installation featuring a hanging sculpture and a dual-channel video projection. It is meant to embody the infinity within a dynamic system driven by the fractal structure. I am looking into clouds as an example of natural fractal structure, using it as a point of departure to consider fractals in other aspects of the natural and manmade world, and exploring the possibility of artwork that uses scientific theory. I am also experimenting with the characteristics of various materials and media to build a poetic environment and convey philosophical insight. (If you'd be interested in more details, check out my paper here.)
What are the takeaways for my audience?
Although this project originates from a complicated mathematical terminology, it is not meant to present a clear definition of it or explain its characteristics to the audience with a wealth of detail. Instead, I am aiming to create a visually appealing experience, through which a moment of feeling inspired should be expected and induced. One intended takeaway for the viewers is to prompt them to pay attention to, and furthermore admire, patterns in nature with fractals serving as a starting point. Hopefully, this experience would encourage them to think about and question the legitimacy of the conventional way we organize and categorize in our social practice, such as urban planning or administrative systems. At least, the next time when people look up at the sky, they would not see clouds as they saw them before :)
I aimed to represent the three core features of a natural fractal system—self-similarity, recursion and variation—in my methodology of making the sculpture and in the process of assembling it. I chose white paper as the primary material because it shares a close resemblance with natural clouds of being fragile and soft, while at the same time it still bears a certain degree of firmness qualifying the physicality of being a piece of sculpture. I laser-cut paper and folded it in the shape of a regular dodecahedron, which is “a polyhedron with twelve flat faces”, as the smallest element of the “cloud”. The reason why I chose dodecahedron among other three-dimensional figures, such as pyramids, cylinders, or cones, lies in its indigenous self-similarity and symmetry. Besides, being different from a sphere, dodecahedron’s angularity and surfaces enable a close and durable joint between two units. My choice of making some of these dodecahedrons solid and some hollow is meant to represent the variation in a natural fractal structure. I glued three dodecahedrons into a group, and then I glued all the groups together into a whole piece, representing the nature of repetition and accumulation.
The primary intention in incorporating the video channel is to reveal fractal’s manifestations both in nature and human society and to present them in an associative way in order to prompt the audience to think about their underlying relationship, namely how human beings have drawn inspiration from fractal and applied it in many different fields to solve our problems. Basically, the video starts with fractals in nature and changes gradually to fractals in human society, from clouds to waves, to urban roads, to circuit boards, and finally to the stock market. Clouds and the stock market serving as two extremes are seemingly disparate to the majority. The strategy I took to stitch all the footages together is to align them in grids as another fashion of fractal and take advantage of the visual similarity in the pattern and motion as a cue for the shared logic behind.
This art installation is designed for the gallery audience and would be displayed in a dark space for the sake of good video resolution in the projection. The total floor area is around 15 feet in length plus 10 feet of width. The paper sculpture would be suspended from the ceiling using transparent fishing lines. The top of the sculpture would be a little higher than the eye level, so that the viewers need to raise their heads a little bit, which simulated the usual case people would see clouds in the sky. There would be a label aside on the wall providing a brief description of the work. Two projectors would be set oppositely around the sculpture, one in the front and the other one on the back. The audience is supposed to walk around the piece, observe it as well as watch the video. There would be tapes on the floor marking the area so that people would not step into and block in the front of the projectors.