Beginning in August 2006, I spent three months in the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics with the assistance of an artsACT Government New Work Grant. I was drawn to the Department of Applied Maths by the research generated from visual data produced by the ANU X-ray Microcomputed Tomograph (XCT) Facility. The XTC, custom built by the department, enables scientists to see the structure of material – such as rock, fossil or bone – at nano-scale. The Department of Applied Mathematics is mix of research physicists, chemists and mathematicians with broad interests in the form and function of matter. They are recognised for groundbreaking research into processes involving complex materials and networks. Already their results are challenging recognised theoretical knowledge of the structure of matter, including the established understanding of evolution. The Departments technology and software has greatly extended their experimental capabilities, causing scientists from a wide range of disciplines to re-evaluate how they now approach their research.
The objective of the residency was to further explore my ideas around art as metaphor for contemporary scientific techniques and processes such as nanotechnology to examine issues of visualisation, replication and simulation of the natural world. But it also gave me the chance to hang around scientists in their natural environment and to gain a better understanding about the way they work and think. Researchers in the Department were incredibly generous with their time; explaining their work to me, describing theoretical process and physical properties at nano-scale and beyond. I enjoyed the challenge of engaging with complex information and I connected with the concept of their work being experimental, drawing parallels with the experimental nature of making art.
My project was inspired by a collection of miniature plastic animals that represent insects, reptiles and sea creatures and are no bigger than 3cm long. I had used them in earlier work to mimick the methology of scientific investigation and I had experimented with various ways of emulating X-ray processes through basic flat bed scanning and photoshop manipulation. This work then executed through a variety of mediums such as photocopy, laser printouts, photo-screen print and on large-format inkjet printers.
This Facility offers high fidelity microscopic 3D tomography. The XCT instruments are designed and built in-house and scan objects in 360 degrees, not in slices. Therefore the resulting datasets, around 16 Gbytes each, are full representations of the internal structure of a static object; such as a bee’s brain or a small fragment of fossil or bone. In conjunction with the XCT, a unique volume rendering program ‘Drishti’ has been developed by Dr Ajay Limaye to visualise the data in 3D. Drishti enables scientists to view the samples on screen as virtual objects; moving around and through the data on x and y coordinates. The XCT Facility is supported by APAC, Australia’s largest public supercomputer centre which maintains an enormous volume (several Pbyte) of archival storage at the ANU.
In conjunction with the XTC facility, Dr Ajay Lamaye, from the ANU Super Computer Centre and Vizlab, has been developing a high resolution 3D volume rendering program which he has called Drishti, which means 'insight' in Sanskrit. It enables researchers to visually interpret their micro’X-ray data. Under Ajay’s instruction I attempt to use this software independently. This program allows me to view the replica’s tiny interior structures, manipulate its density and rotate volume 360 degrees in a virtual space. The transparency of the object seduces me. The same way I feel when I see examples of the late 19th century glass of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’s beautifully detailed marine animals. The octopus sub volume is both exquisite and rudimentary.
Nanoplastica is a body of work that has resulted from this residency. It was rendered and animated in Drishti, a unique scientific volume exploration and presentation tool. This work was first exhibited as a digital projection installation at Canberra Contemporary Art Space in 2008.
2010 Artist in Residence