I’m interested in the behaviour of fluids in relation to complexity theory, particularly the way that emergent behaviours can arise from large systems of simple elements.
Think of water, a simple molecule, uninteresting except perhaps for a charge difference between its ends. Then think of huge ocean waves rolling into shore… you’d never imagine that such simple molecules might exhibit this amazing behaviour when a whole ocean of them is put together under the influence of weather.
My interest in this topic lies in how to harness it to make aesthetic objects. Can the emergent behaviour of a complex system be useful when making art?
It’s an ongoing research topic that I keep returning to, particularly when thinking about new software-based generative art projects,
I recently made a body of work related specifically to exploring the properties of fluids using a number of different approaches.
It all started by observing nature directly: the River Caldew passes fairly closely by our house, rushing along over rocks in a fairly steep wooded gouge. I made a number of quick sketching trips over the course of a week or so to examine the water over and around the rocks, just to get a feeling for it, and eventually thought I could start responding by making some work…
My first attempts looked at combining actual fluids with drawn water, for example:
And I developed this further, incorporating blind relief printmaking from an etched metal plate.
My next idea was to look at making a composition from simple rules that I hoped might result in something that reflected the way fluids behave. So I made up some rules, cut out a plastic sheet to use as a drypoint plate, and set to work.
I found thinking about engraving and applying the rules at the same time was awkward, particularly as mistakes can’t be erased! So I built a simple software tool to help me make compositions based on the rules I’d invented. I made the tool using OpenFrameworks and Box2D.
My little app allowed me to explore compositions much more quickly, working through alternatives on-screen without the fear of making a mistake, and I eventually made a new drypoint print from a triptych of shaped plastic plates.
After this, I started to play around with flow fields, using the Processing tool for creative coding. This didn’t go very far, but I’ve got plenty of ideas for taking this forward, so no doubt one day I’ll return to water and fluids…