Art STEM Interface

Art + STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) = STEAM

Artists have always been scientists. Ancient artists experimented with clays, plant dyes and resins to make paints and varnishes that would adhere to various surfaces and last for millennia. They researched and developed firing and glazing techniques for pottery and smelting techniques for bronze ornaments and statuary. They figured out ways to weave fibers into intricately-patterned baskets and mats and more. 

Artist Paul D. Miller in Antartica to document environment for his Terra Nova multimedia project. Photo: artist's websiteEven though now they usually don’t have to make or invent the basic media and processes used in their work, contemporary artists still employ scientific, technical and mathematical thinking to develop techniques and to successfully execute ideas — ideas that are not necessarily about STEM topics.

Vandorn Hinnant, ArkCurrent STEAM-related exhibitions include those of three African American artists — Vandorn Hinnant, Demetrius Oliver  and Cullen Washington. The following descriptions of their works are drawn from exhibition announcements and an exhibition catalog.

Vandorn Hinnant: Explorer of Form and the Beauty of Number, an exhibition of 40 works of art created between 1980 and 2015 by the Durham-based artist is at the North Carolina Central University Museum, September 13,  2015 - October 16, 2015.

Vandorn Hinnant,  A Dogon Instrument for Measuring the Distance Between Stars, polychromed woodHinnant creates designs and patterns developed from fractal mathematics and other forms of geometry to express metaphysical concepts.

A circular configuration began to reappear as a central element in Hinnant’s work with greater frequency after the mid-1980s and many are included in the exhibition. He has written that his work can be described as a refined synthesis of abstract expressionist painting and sacred geometry drawings. 

Demetrius Oliver: Anemometer is on view at the Inman Galleries, Houston, September 11- October 24, 2015.

Demetrius Oliver, Atmospheric I - Atmospheric V, installation view, 2015 cast resin, steel pedestal, 51 1/2 x 15 x 15 inches eachFor almost a decade, Demetrius Oliver has been charting a domestic cosmology, finding analogues to celestial bodies in the modest fixtures of terrestrial life. A paperclip might stand in  for a constellation, a teakettle for a planet. The multifaceted environments, comprising sculpture, photography and video, speak to the many ways we understand and relate to our environment.

Science is often only as good as its metaphors: an electron is like a planet, or is it more like a cloud? Oliver’s deceptively simple microcosm shares that descriptive impulse, drawing the unfathomable down to a manageable size while finding cause for awe in the most unassuming objects.

Demetrius Oliver, Instrument, 2015, video, two flat screen monitors, ed. 4The point of reference for Anemometer is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, an enormous hurricane wide enough to swallow the Earth several times over. To describe a vast churning vortex as a “spot” feels like mislabeling, but in point of fact the Spot hasn’t moved or dissipated (though it is shrinking) in several hundred years at least. Jet streams on both sides and a high-pressure atmospheric lid keep it spinning in place.

An anemometer measures wind-speed, and though there are many nods to Jupiter throughout the show (the work is in groups of five, Jupiter is fifth from the sun) the clearest link is a pervasive allusion to air, in either material or function. The resin sculptures in Atmospheric are cast facsimiles of turbine ventilators.

Space Notation 8, 2014, collograph with hand drawn ink and flashe paint on Rives Arches 250 gsm paper,  22 x 30”Cullen Washington works are on view in Dark Matter, a group exhibition curated by Howard Rutkowski and Mary Dinaburg at the Latvik Gallery in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 8 - December 3, 2015.  

Cullen Washington, Od Matter S1I, 2015, tape, wood, canvas, acrylic paint, gel medium, epoxy, 102 x 57”Cullen Washington’s expansive compositions are like exploding stars, shooting out in all directions and dimensions. Or, perhaps closer to the Big Bang Theory, the creation of a new embryonic state of meaning, forming multiple fluid relationships. The mash-up of found materials – wood, tape, canvas scraps and other flotsam and jetsam – would suggest an inherent and unconsidered chaos. Yet, as with the natural world, there is an ordered structure that emerges out of confusion as the compositions coalesce into pure abstraction.

The IRAAA has had a continuing interest in promoting public awareness of STEAM connections. See the STEM+Art section of IRAAA+ for additional articles on the intersection of visual art and STEM. And in the print IRAAA journal see:  2015 issue on architecture,  2011 Innovation issue on art and STEM2004 issue on Rhythm of Structure, MathArt in the African Diaspora

Internships for Students with Art and Chemistry Backgrounds

Conservation internships are sponsored the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to increase diversity in the museum conservation profession. The NMAAHC is seeking applicants for the Spring 2016 session, the deadline for which is: October 15, 2015. Likely start date of the 40 hours per week, 16 weeks internship is January 15, 2016

NMAAHC seeks applicants who are recent degree holders or currently enrolled Undergraduate or Graduate students from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and other universities with a demonstrated interest in the conservation of African American cultural heritage.  We are seeking students with a combination of Art, Art History, Computer Science, Design, Photography, Studio  Art, PLUS basic coursework in Chemistry.

Complete information on the internships is here.