Dr. Ljiljana Fruk
Reader in BioNano Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Universtiy of Cambridge, UK
We live in a world in which we are getting alienated, both psychologically and physically from our real nature, due to an immense amount of external distractions. It is of utmost importance trying to repair it, creating new bonds with that same world on many different levels. To do so, we often need to see beyond visible.
Today we possess technological means, which enable us to see the invisible and to increase the understanding of the intricate connections between different elements and their immediate environment. Microscopes, for example, help us to see down to the atomic level, where new rules apply, enabling more insight into what is hidden from us due to our own visual limits.
Artists see beyond the visible. Macroscopic is as important to position us within the universal scale of the things, as it is the microscopic work of the scientists, who describe and explore nature. Artists can create new natures, but both creative paths are based on the same universal truths and push the boundaries of our understanding.
Just as the artists of the past experimented with colour, materials and machines, artists today have an access to new technologies and to tools to explore the hidden nature. There is a myriad of invisible worlds consisting of tiny organisms; planktons, bacteria and viruses, all interacting with us, responding to us and helping us to establish an environmental balance.
In Microscopic Landscape, Martín Kaulen draws a connection between that which is imperceptible to our own eye to our actions. In this artwork, we are as much the subject of the artistic experience as we are the experiment itself, particularly when we try to reconnect to the microscopic universe. Sound is used as a tool to introduce changes and to create a new balance into the sample of seawater that shows the microscope, being a powerful communication tool to establish a link between what we can see and what we can't. And as our Interaction with the artwork changes the intensity of the sound, so is the sound transformed into the movement of the creatures living in the water. This enables direct visualization of the impact of our actions and at the same time, an inter-species and inter-worlds communication without leaving Earth, venturing into the depths of a universe often unknown to us.
When considering his artwork, it is possible to note that sound is a recurring theme, or more precisely, a communication, action and reaction tool. DNA Music installation, in which each gene is related to a particular sound, fascinates with its harmony. As we follow the movement of the sound along the long strand of the DNA molecule, we witness the creation of a real molecular symphony made of repeating superimposed notes. Sound dynamics illustrate the active harmony of the molecules themselves; all of the molecules and DNA itself, are in constant motion and their vibrations represent a language scientists can read, understand and use to fingerprint molecular species.
On the other hand, the complexity and intensity of the Drone installation real time generated music is disturbing as it is a hybrid between a sculpture and a music instrument that is not interpreted by people, but by automating motors and machines. Lifeless materials producing music, is for sure a new way of finding life in everything around us. Yet, behind it hides a simple scientific truth: organisms as well as objects are in a constant molecular movement.
In general, I find his work a much-needed addition to the whole interdisciplinary movement between art and science. Kaulen uses scientific concepts to establish new connections, bringing upon new levels of comprehension and understanding. The results of this experience are both aesthetically pleasing and curiosity inducing, awakening the scientist in all of us: How is that done? How does it work? What is the principle behind it?
Those questions always pop-up when considering his artwork, no matter if one creates sounds in Microscopic Landscape or walks through Nebuchadnezzar domestic Jungle, where a visitor activates the plants’ movement when passing by.
In this artwork we witness a new nature creation, new hanging gardens that employ light, shadow and sound to enhance the environmental interactions and point out the effects they have on the world around us.
The installation employs creative use of technology to enhance that what we already intuitively know: the world is connected in many different levels. In science, the so-called signaling molecules are exchanged as we interact with other living creatures; the changes we make are maybe not directly seen but they are real.
In this regard, by establishing a communication between viewers and plants, the artist gives a subtle message we all need to be reminded of: for our every action, there is an environmental reaction.
Being versatile and insightful, the artist is not shy to explore and to always remain curious. His latest studies of geometry using bamboo and palm tree wood takes us to the basic molecular level, where a geometrical set of rules shape not only the form but also determine the energy and the function. Inspired by molecular and nano, he goes into macroscopic by designing intricate mosaics of geometric shapes. There is a bit of poetry in the fact that this rare shapes can be done using the most common organic molecule on Earth, the main component of wood: cellulose.
While Kaulen is moving towards the exploration of geometry and symmetry within the crystals and other nano-based structures and their presence in Arabic art, I salute his ability to connect what could seemingly not be connected, to inspire new, to challenge the existing forms of communication and to confront us with new-old environments. All of these always with the subtle message of the universal connection and balance of all things.
As a scientist, I find the ability to get insights into the new worlds -real or imaginative- very inspiring.