Art/Science synthesis

My work is a synthesis of Art and Science. I work in three dimensions and my practice is informed by my knowledge of the sciences. Science is my material both in a literal, tangible sense and conceptually. I create by applying scientific ideas with aesthetic intent. In exploring the potential for beauty in Science, my intention is to stimulate curiosity and have the viewer question their assumptions about reality.

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Spriggs, R. (2017) Array of 36 Magnetic Pendulums, Ceramic magnets, perspex and wood, (2m x 1.2m x 1.2m), University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK

The unseen forces which order our physical world are the substance for my sculpture. Both gravity and electromagnetic forces have long fascinated me. My father was an electrical engineer and I often played with magnets as a child, feeling the invisible yet very real forces between them. Extending this interest into studies of other unseen fields was part of my scientific studies. So, it has seemed natural to me to seek to sculpt using these hidden entities, which may only be seen by their effects on other objects or interaction with other fields.

I have combined these forces in large arrays of magnetic pendulums. Gravity determines the period of their oscillation and the magnets are arranged to repel one another. The result is a dynamic structure and the motion of the pendulums is complex tending towards the truly chaotic. By carefully finding the balance between the pendulums motion and the repulsive forces of the magnets the random movements will continue for a long period without intervention. I have used hidden electromagnets, driven by timing circuits, to periodically provide a subtle push to a small number of pendulums in the array. Consequently, the slow, subtle, hypnotic movements will continue indefinitely, evolving with time, forming patterns for a moment and descending into disorder at others.

The pendulums are constructed from ceramic ring magnets within acrylic spheres, suspended by clear, perspex rods. The rods pass through a transparent perspex sheet and are secured with a wooden sphere, which acts as a bearing and allows the pendulum to swing freely.

The magnets are arranged in a grid form, such that each magnet repels those around it. In this way, if one magnet moves it will cause the magnets surrounding it to move. Gentle waves of movement are passed through the array.

The transparency of the Perspex sheet and rods for the pendulums also allows the viewer to concentrate on the magnetic spheres. The spheres move in a subtle, slow way. The length of the pendulums gives them a long period of oscillation. The power of the electromagnets beneath the array are just enough to move the magnets above a small amount on each cycle of the timing circuits. The pulses from the asymmetrically placed electromagnets are on different time settings so they rarely coincide. As a result, the motion evolves in a complex unpredictable way.

When it was first started I sat and watched the movements for some time. I found it almost hypnotic. Patterns of motion form and disappear over time, sometimes chaotic, at other times a fleeting order emerges and fades away again. It is my own work and I am undoubtedly biased but I find this piece compelling.

The array was designed to be a balance between order, in the geometric structure, and the at times chaotic oscillations of the pendulums. The interaction of the forces pushing magnets apart and gravity pulling them together is key. I think it is the dynamic equilibrium between these forces that is engaging. The array is kinetic, perhaps chaotic, but sometimes ordered motion evolves from the apparently random. Its’ unpredictable nature is attractive in a similar way to water running over rocks or a wave breaking on the sand. An expression of natural forces in a carefully constructed system.

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