Saturday, February 28, 2015

Art Intervention in the Physics DepARTment

A little art intervention in the Physics DepARTment  

It's been seven weeks since my residency started.  The first week was spent settling in and setting up my studio.  During my second week, I took an intensive week long Circuit Building workshop (see 2 blogs back).  

The students who taught me the value of Google Calendar

Classes started January 26th and the last five weeks have been chock-a-block full.  Each Monday, I sit in on How to Create Things & Have Them Matter.  This course is "about ideas, how we imagine them, and especially how we continually reimagine them in order to produce an innovation that in some clear way benefits the world."  "The course teaches students to generate, develop and realize breakthrough ideas in the arts and sciences."

Professor Morin demonstrates the mechanical advantage of the Atwood Machine

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I sit in on 15A (Mechanics & Relativity) lectures and labs.  Some of the 70ish students will have the option to work with me on a creative project, instead of their regular mid and end of the semester projects.  This I envision to be a collaborative kinetic sculpture or installation, that we build together, where they can still collect data and apply the usual quantitative analysis (using Logger Pro and Mathematica) while simultaneously making art.  

Ripple Tank Applet

I've started sitting in on a Waves and Optics lab where I've watched students make their own holograms, learned about interference, refraction, diffraction and wave phenomena via a ripple tank simulator.  As the students approach their end of the semester project, I'll be working with some (and learning a lot about) nonlinear oscillators and chaotic pendulums, building wind instruments and maybe creating a water ripple tank.

A piece of my vice being drilled on the milling machine

Additionally, I've been going to through my "Green Training" in the Machine Shop, building a vice and learning how to use a vertical and horizontal band saw, lathe, milling machine, reading plans and measuring to 1/1000 of an inch with a micrometer and calipers, (I was delighted to find safety glasses that have magnification lenses!) learning TIG welding and how to use the laser cutter.  

TIG welding training

Another thing I've been making a point of is setting up meetings with professors in the Physics Department to learn about their research, labs and areas of expertise.  They've been quite generous with their time, taken me on tours, given me advice on areas within physics to research where there's rich visual and aesthetic potential.  

Last week I gave a talk called "Collision: Where Art and Science Meet".  Here's an article that a student reporter from the Harvard Crimson wrote... 

One of the most enjoyable things that's happened is that students have come out of the woodwork, expressed their interest in making things and shared with me their ideas for projects. To encourage this I've begun a "Lunch with the AIR" (Artist-in-Residence) held every week, where I host an informal, incubator style, BYO lunch (dessert provided) where students can meet up, share whatever they're excited about, learning, researching and hash out their creative art-science ideas.

My very own computational notebook

Without a doubt, the Physics Department is a stimulating environment to be immersed in! Kind of like a language immersion course where you live in another country, speak, eat and dream in that language. Only this time I'm in Physicsland. The floodgate has opened and the ideas are rushing in so fast. I'm trying frantically to get them on paper before the next deluge comes.  One of the lab staff bestowed upon me (this was a rite of passage, I think) a computation notebook to keep track of my data collection. 
I think I'll draw in it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Collision! Where Art & Science Meet

Collision: Where Art & Science Meet 
Friday, Feb. 20th, 12-1pm

Harvard Science Center, Physics Dept., Rm 302, 1 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA
Artist Talk by Kim Bernard
All Welcome!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Simple Circuits

Two weeks ago I started my stretch as Artist-in-Residence in the Physics Department at Harvard.  So far, I've set up a studio in a "SciBox", a multipurpose classroom/lab, where I have an open door policy and welcome physics and engineering students, teachers and staff to wander in, see what I'm up to and engage in a dialog about art-science-creativity-innovation and where-how-when these matters collide.  

Circuit designed with Eagle software

Besides setting up my space, I've been taking a week long circuit building intensive where I've become acquainted with Eagle software to design circuitry, 

learned how to use a Roland MDX-20 milling machine, a vinyl cutter...

soldered LED's, resistors, buttons/switches, battery holders and a photo transmitter.  

It's child's play to what the 20 somethings are doing: micro controllers, microphones, flashing LED's and Arduino. But it's very exciting and opening up the possibility of adding electronics to kinetic sculpture.         

If you, or your 5 year old, are interested in building very simple "squishy" circuits, check out how to make conductive and insulating play dough here or watch AnnMarie Thomas's TED talk here.  And if you want more advanced stuff, go to Sparkfun here.

Stay tuned... I've begun a Machine Shop "Green" Training and have started using a vertical and horizontal band saw, along with the lathe.  I'm especially excited to have just bought bifocal magnifying safety glasses! Now I can actually kinda see the 1/1000ths of an inch that I am taking off.   


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Years Catch Up

It's been a while since my last blog post so this update in a bit overdue.  Here's a catch up...

Hydrogen Atomic Orbitals (walls), Wave Line (center)

In May, I had a solo exhibit titled "Spherical Harmonics" at Boston Sculptors Gallery.  This is a fitting follow up to my last post where I was rolling and spray painting the thousands of ceramic balls it took to create the installation. 

The exhibit featured "Hydrogen Atomic Orbitals", an arrangement of thousands of 1" diameter black and red ceramic balls, clustered in patterns, hanging from the gallery walls. Having chanced upon patterns made by hydrogen atoms while conducting a Google search on Quantum Mechanics, I created a simple and tangible way of visualizing the behavior of electrons in matter, following an orderly natural system as familiar to us as the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Mean.

Wave Line

In addition, "Wave Line", was installed in the center of the gallery: a kinetic, interactive sculpture consisting of 100 hanging lead balls in a 25 foot line that invites viewers to engage with them, creating a wave of motion.  To get a better sense of the show and the kinetic movement of Wave Line, watch a short video hereread an article by Bob Keyes in the Portland Press Herald here and a review by Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe here.

Goodbye to old house and studio in North Berwick, Maine

In May, we also put our house in North Berwick, Maine on the market with the goal to downsize, move to Rockland, Maine and build studios.  Thinking we had plenty of time before a serious buyer came along, we were quite surprised when our house went under contract in late July with a closing date of September 30th.  Crunch time! The next two months were consumed with thinning, purging, packing, selling and giving away all the house and studio STUFF (way too much stuff!) that we'd accumulated in fourteen years of living in one place. 

Wax Resist workshop at the Maine Coast Encaustic Workshop Retreat

During that time I taught my annual Maine Coast Encaustic Workshop Retreats at the end of August and in mid-September.  See a video here.  This gave me a much appreciated break from the hard work of purging and packing as did my Creative and Professional Practice Workshop Retreat on Star Island.  My students felt bad for me when I told then all that was going on, but really, it was a treat to get away from the real work. Gotta love those students!

 Creative and Professional Practice Workshop Retreat at Star Island

The last weekend of September arrived, the boxes were packed, the Uhaul truck was in the driveway and Christos and I handed over ownership of the fixer upper we poured our sweat into, restored, raised our kids in, made a home and studios of and so enjoyed. On occasion we asked ourselves if we were doing the right thing. But as much as we loved the home and studios we'd created, we realized it was much too big and much too much maintenance. The trade off in downsizing would be a simpler, smaller, just we needed and no more, home in Rockland, with more time to make art.  We'd come to love Rockland as a result of keeping our sailboat in the harbor for eight years.  Having bought a house seven years ago, that we rented all along, kept the goal of moving there alive.

For the last three months we've been renovating our new-old house, re-sheet rocking, refinishing the wood floors, painting every wall, ceiling and the trim while most of our belongings have been in storage.  The inside is done, mostly, and we'll get to the outside next summer. 

We've been getting to know Rockland, and happy to find a local fish market, farm fresh eggs, a great bakery and the YMCA, all a short walk from our house. Christos is happy to be just 300 steps from the town landing and since the leaves have fallen, we've had a nice view of the harbor from our home. 

The studios "under construction" in Rockland, ME

While we've been settling in, our builder Dave has been steadily working on our wood shop, now done except the cedar shakes, and framing our studios, now finally enclosed, with plenty of work ahead inside.  We're hoping by summer, the studios will be complete and ready for us to make art in.  It's been great to see the plans that Christos worked up take shape and to feel the physical space that we only imagined until now.  

Here's an article in the Union of Maine Visual Artists Journal about it all. 

"Objects in Motion" at the McIninch Gallery at SNHU

In the midst of all this I had another solo exhibit "Objects In Motion" at the McIninch Gallery at Southern New Hampshire University. This required a bit of planning, pre-packing, knowing that it all needed to be set apart and stored separately.  Here's a write up about the exhibit in the Hippo and a link to a piece that NHPR did on the show. 

The gang!

Now... the house is comfy and feels like home, the holidays are behind us and I've just returned from California (I'm on the plane as I write) where we traveled from San Francisco to LA visiting family.

Next week I head to Cambridge, where I'll be an Artist-in-Residence for four months in the Physics Department at Harvard.  I'll be working with students to apply the principals of mechanics to create kinetic sculpture, collaborating with faculty, sitting in on labs and lectures, and using the departments equipment to create my own physics inspired work. It will be a cross disciplinary exchange between art and science.  The timing couldn't have been better since my new studio is under construction.

Most people ask how this all came to be, since the Harvard Physics Department does not have an Artist-in-Residence program.  In January of 2012 I had an exhibit "Stuff Moves" at Boston Sculptors Gallery where I showed kinetic sculpture.  See exhibit here.  A Physics Professor from Harvard saw my work and asked if I'd be interested in working with his students and/or exhibiting. Via email he circulated my work around the department to see if there was interest in bringing me in.  After 2 years, several visits, meetings and tours, yada yada, I had another exhibit "Spherical Harmonics" at Boston Sculptors (see here) where the chair of the Physics Department came to the reception and invited me to be an Artist-in-Residence.  Since then, I've been visiting, getting to know the guys in the lab and creating an AIR program for myself, since there wasn't an existing one. 

The first week I'll be attending a winter session intensive on circuit building and assisting students in applying their new circuitry skills to create kinetic sculpture. I hope to learn something about how circuits work myself. From there I'll be sitting in on the lectures and labs for PSI 15 (Principals of Scientific Inquiry) where I'll be working with students who want to take what they learn about mechanics and create sculpture. 

I'm diving in with the attitude that I'm there to absorb like a sponge, to share what I know, admit and learn about what I don't know.  Not to focus on making work worth showing but to create some rough and ready mock ups that allow me to understand, just enough, what I'm learning, and not to get stuck on the craftsmanship of making anything finished-polished-exhibitable. Of course, there will be plenty of time post-AIR to make finished work and I’m sure my future projects will be influenced by this experience. 
I'm also going in with an 24-7 open door studio policy where physics students, lab staff and faculty may walk in, see what I'm doing, ask questions, offer their ideas and input, collaborate and create along with me. 

I'm planning on writing regular blog posts to document and share just how cool physics can be, so tune in again in a week or two!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

About the Process...

One of my students recently asked if I knew of any artists writing blogs about their process, which gave me the idea to share what's gone into creating my upcoming exhibit 'Spherical Harmonics' opening May 21st at Boston Sculptors Gallery.  For the record, BSG is a co-operative gallery run by 36 artist members.   Every 2 years each member has a solo exhibit... a great big space with high ceilings, blank walls, complete freedom and carte blanche to do whatever we wish.  

I'll admit, I didn't get off to a great start.  In fact, most times when I've finished installing a solo exhibit (typically having completed the work in the 11th hour) I feel a huge sense of relief mixed with the sinking feeling that I'll never be able to pull it off again.  It was time to start that process all over again.  Being faced with so much choice can be a bit overwhelming.  So, in January, when I sensed the clock ticking, I did what I typically do when I have an upcoming sculpture solo...  

Go back into my sketchbooks

Sketch new ideas
Revisit links of interest I've bookmarked for later 
Look through a stack of books I keep for ideas and inspiration
Sketch ideas more
Make a list of things I'm curious about and would like to explore 
Think and write about the overall 'gestalt' of the exhibit
List materials I want to work with
Sketch ideas some more

I see this process as mining the well, priming the pump, putting on my sculptors thinking cap and looking at the world with 'What am I going to create for this exhibit?' eyes. Usually something clicks, I finally sketch something out and that's it, that's the show, that's what I'm going to do.  Then I go right to the materials.  I don't necessarily know all that I'm going to do but I 
at least know what I'll create for one of the pieces and trust that the ideas will continue to come.   

I had loads of possible ideas for this exhibit.  Some of them were either too complicated, required too much engineering, were too expensive or simply just didn't excite me.

It wasn't until I ran across this image while Googling 'Quantum Physics' that the spark was ignited. In a nutshells these patterns show a cross section of Hydrogen Atomic Orbitals, where at their nucleus the proton can be found. The dots clusters are density plots where the electron is likely to be found in it's ground state (1s) and excited states. Though I was interested in the fact that hydrogen atoms are the building blocks for life and constitute about 75% of the elemental mass of the universe, I was more intrigued with the sheer beauty found at the atomic level, following an orderly natural system as familiar to us as the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Mean. 
That image, combined with the fact that my husband and I would soon be driving from Maine to Key West, for an exhibit of his, and knowing that I'd be spending 10-12 hour days as a passenger with nothing to do but...  roll balls!  I'd roll by day and lay the balls in rows in our hotel room to dry at night.  My goal was to roll 200 balls out of clay a day and at the end of a 2 1/2 day drive down and another 2 1/2 day drive back I had my first 1000 balls made.           

Upon my return I rolled another 2000 clay balls, drilling holes in them and firing them so they could later be hung on the wall.  It was during this batch that I started to question my decision and asked myself what the heck I'd gotten myself into.  At 200 balls a day, it took me another 2 full weeks to get to a total of 3000.   Instead of dreading the repetitiveness, I started to looked at the process as a opportunity for mediation and often listened to audio books about mindfulness.

The balls didn't start out to be red and black.  I first spray painted them all in groups of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.  After painting nearly all of them, I decided that the palette was all wrong for the theme, too playful, not serious enough, and spray painted them all over again to be black and red.  My neighbors, the mail carrier and the UPS driver, I'm sure, all questioned what in tarnation I was doing for weeks on end in my driveway, spray painting balls.  I know the cashiers at Utrecht had me pegged for a graffiti artist as I kept returning for my favorite spray paint, Montana Gold.  

Next it was off to buy sheets of 1/2" baltic birch plywood and lay out the balls, arranging them in the patterns of Hydrogen Atomic Orbitals.  I cut the plywood in the outer shapes of the orbitals, painting them a light grey, the color of the gallery walls, so the plywood would blend in with the wall.    

Next, the baltic birch was hung and I pounded nails where each ball would hang.  

Still, wanting to be sure I had enough balls (no giggling here) I hung all of the baltic birch cutouts on the walls and did a 'test installation' to get a sense of what the exhibit would look like. 

During this process of creating the orbital patterns I was simultaneously working on a kinetic sculpture composed of a 25 foot line of 100 lead balls to be hung from the 12 foot ceiling at Boston Sculptors.  The idea was to connect the hanging balls vertically and allow the viewers engage the sculptures motion by wagging the end balls, creating a wave of motion.

The guys at New England Marine first thought I was seriously into fishing when I went there to order 100 20 ounce lead sinkers, but became interested and very helpful when I described my idea for a kinetic sculpture. Since I need so much space and just the right height ceilings, I actually won't get a chance to see this sculpture complete until I install it in the gallery.  I'm crossing my fingers that I don't pull the ceiling down from the weight and motion of this piece.  

I gather that when the exhibit is up, no one will envision the endless hours of ball rolling, both in my van on the road to Key West or in my studio with my mindfulness meditation audio books playing.  Nor will they imaging me in my vapor barrier mask, ripped jeans and ratty, flannel work shirt spray painting 3000 balls in my driveway. Nor will they know I lay awake in the wee hours many nights, worrying about the gallery ceiling falling down in the middle of my opening reception.  I hope instead that viewers take away an appreciation for the beauty and order of mathematical functions and a simple, tangible way of seeing science in a different light.  I hope they will give the line of 100 lead balls a wag and see 'Wave Line' do it's thing. And lastly, I hope to remind myself that I pulled it off again, and that I should trust in the power of creativity and that the next time I'm faced with blank walls and the opportunity to create with total freedom and choice, the ideas will come again.   

Spherical Harmonics 
Boston Sculptors Gallery
May 21-June 22
Reception May 31, 2-5pm
First Friday, June 6, 5-8pm

Gallery Hours:  Weds-Sun, 12-6pm


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Back from Peru

Thanks to Boston Sculptors Gallery member Nora Valdez, many BSG members had the recent opportunity to travel to Peru and exhibit at the Qorikancha Museum in Cusco.  Nora not only established the connection for all of us, but curated and orchestrated all the details of the international exhibit.  Several sculptors created their work in Peru and some, myself  included, choose to create work ahead, allowing time to explore the Sacred Valley and do a two day trek to Machu Picchu.

I've been wanting to visit Peru and especially Machu Picchu for almost 2 decades now, so I saw this as my chance.  Here are some highlights.   

After flying into Lima on Jan 24th, we flew to Cusco, elevation 11,200 ft, and spent the day acclimatizing by drinking coca tea and sleeping.  I learned that no one, especially this sea level dweller, is immuned to altitude sickness and it's best to allow plenty of time to adjust, especially before even modest physical exertion.  By Sunday, Jan. 26th, Christos, my husband and favorite travel partner in life and on land, and I took the local bus to Pisac to visit the market.  Every day, locals sell and trade their produce and handmades but Sunday is the best.  

Peru's third biggest source of revenue is agriculture, after tourism and mining, and there's no shortage of fresh food.  This market far exceeded any farmers market I have even seen.  

We learned quickly that nothing is priced and you can expect to haggle over everything from a taxi ride to a bag of potatoes.  

I could not resist buying some natural dyes, all from local plants, seeds, insects and moss and fixed with salt, lime, alum, acid, and urine.

We wandered the streets of Pisac a bit and made our way,  

again on the bus packed with locals, to Ollantaytambo.  

These are some of the local taxis, souped up motorcycles really, that buzz the streets taking locals and tourists short distances.  Each on had it's own personality.  

We got lucky and found a great place to say, the Hotel Iskay, where we could hear the river babbling.  A good nights rest and off to visit the ruins of Ollantaytambo the next day.   

Here's a view of Ollantaytambo looking down from the Inca ruins where the land was terraced and irrigated to yield a variety of fruits and vegetables.  

What's remarkable is that the stones fit precisely, with no mortar and are interlocking to prevent seismic shift.  

This site at Ollantaytambo was built in the mid-15th century as a ceremonial site but never finished due to the Spanish invasion of 1532.

The Sun Temple or Wall of Six Monoliths was most impressive due to the size of the fitted stones having been carried on roads, ramps, and slides from a quarry 5 km away...

and the way the Incas created complex irrigation systems to redirect water for drinking, bathing, growing and livestock.

Speaking of sustaining life, we had worked up an appetite, climbing the ruins, so I decided to try my first Alpaca burger.  

As for Peruvian cuisine, which we quite enjoyed, llama is also popular, as is chicken, ceviche (raw seafood or fish mixed with lime juice and pepper) and guinea pig (bottom left in the case).  

After lunch we took the local bus to Urubamba, not a touristy town at all but a working town, which also had a great indoor market.  

The colors were a photographers dream!

And the streets were alive with people shopping, selling, working, and on the move.  

After a good nights rest, we traveled by bus to Chinchero, land of the weavers, at 12,343 ft.

At the Center for Traditional Textiles in Chinchero we visited a co-operative where woman demonstrate their craft and sell their exquisite work.

Below you'll see woman using a back loom and weaving indigenous patterns, each indicative of the village they are from.  

We also learned how the women use local plants, herbs, insects, to make dyes for the alpaca yarn.  

That's a guinea pig house in the back, which they keep as pets, till a special day comes along like Christmas or a birthday, then it's meal time for guinea.  

Woman have their small children with them always.  We found Peru to be a very family centered culture.  That's yarn she'd dying.  

While in Chinchero we also visited a church, museum and more ruins.

Peruvians are quite enterprising and will approach you with anything to make a sol.  1 american dollar equals about 2.8 soles.  Everything is quite inexpensive to USA standards.  

This small museum had wonderful examples of large ceramic vessels for carrying water on ones back.  

Even though it was/is the rainy season in the Andes of Peru, we managed to escape the entire trip without getting wet.  Back to Cusco to set up the exhibit, give an artist talk and get packed for the trek to Machu Picchu.


Our guide Xavier, with Llama Path tours, picked us up at 5am in Cusco and we made our way by bus then train along the Rio Urubamba to the beginning of our two day trek along the Inca Trail.  Xavier was a wealth of information and shared with us info about Inca history, local flora and fauna, architecture, culture and the Incan beliefs.  

Left to right:  Altin, Roz, Laura, Christos, me, George, Nancy, Hannah and Jessica

Here's the trekking gang!  Not only were we fortunate to have Xavier as our guide, but we stayed dry, had no injuries and all kept the same pace.

At the end of our first day of hiking we got our first view of Machu Picchu.  Since it was the end of the day, all the tourists were gone and we had the rare opportunity to see it without the crowds.  

After a night of hot springs, a good meal and a comfy hotel in Aguas Calientes, we returned the next morning to a magical and misty Machu Picchu to explore for the day.  

Pictures don't even come close to how awesome Machu Picchu (old peak) is.  Christos and I thought we'd make our own peak by taking a little yoga break before heading back down to town to join the group, meet out train, then bus, then van on the journey back to Cusco.   

Our last full day was finishing up the installation for our exhibit Visions/VisiĆ³nes at the Qorikancha Museum.

The Qorikancha is an archaeological site in and of itself and it was a true honor to have work in such a special site.  As you can see from the open courtyard above, it's an open air museum and Boston Sculptors work, along with other invited South American sculptors work, is exhibited throughout the second level.

Artifacto, wax, dye, steel, 72"x96"

In one way or another each artists work was inspired by something Peruvian. My work above, was inspired by Inca artifacts such as pottery, shall pins, knives, tweezers, mace, weaving tools, and hair ornaments recovered at Machu Picchu by archaeologist Hiram Bingham on his expedition in 1912.

Qorikancha Museum show features artwork by the following artists from the Boston Sculptors Gallery: Caroline Bagenal, Kim Bernard, Murray Dewart, Donna Dodson, Rosalyn Driscoll, Laura Evans, Peter DeCamp Haines, Michelle Lougee, Nancy Winship Milliken, Andy Moerlein, Nancy Selvage, Liz Shepherd, Jessica Straus, Nora Valdez, Hannah Verlin and Joseph Wheelwright alongside notable South American artists such as: Ronald Alvan, Pablo Yactayo, Jacob Sulca, Persi Narvaez, Ivan Tovar, Victor Zuniga, Luis Angulo y Gianfranco Yovera, Carlos Bardales and Xavier Cano.  

The work will be on view through March 30th, 2014.