30 Computers Project
main < Previous   Next > contact
Washington Sculptors Group
Curated by Sarah Tanguy
  American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Ave. NW.
Washington, DC
June 16, 2014 – August 22, 2014
Opening Reception June 20, 6 - 9 pm.

Definition: Gedankenexperiment, (German: thought experiment) term used by German-born Albert Einstein to describe his unique approach of using conceptual rather than actual experiments in creating the theory of relativity.

Computer Virus Sculpture #1: Floppy (2009)

This piece manifests the dialectic between the primal and the dual. The principle of duality was conceptualized by mathematicians in the 1940s. The Found Object movement, tracing back to Picasso and Duchamp, has duality in its locus of inspiration.


Duality and the Art of Found Objects

The mathematical theory explored in my submission is the theory of duality. The theory holds that an optimization problem can be viewed from two perspectives: the primal or the dual. In the primal, there is a known function to be optimized, and the solution entails finding the maximum value of the function subject to the constraints of resources. In the dual, the solution entails taking the greatest advantage of available resources in generating the value of the function.

The theory of duality was formally conceptualized by mathematicians John von Neumann, Harold Kuhn, Albert Tucker in the late 1940s. It is used to tackle optimization problems in a wide range of fields, including computer science, linear programming, game theory, engineering, geometry and economics. This principle can also be applied to art.

The dialectic between the primal and dual is a driving force in my approach to sculpture. In conceptualizing a new work, a sculptor can begin with a precise vision of the piece to create, then find the exactly right materials and do the work to implement the idea. Or, the sculptor can look around at available materials and imagine the best piece that could be made from them. Much of my art follows the latter approach: the dual.

The genesis of Floppy (2009) came after I happened to acquire 30 discarded personal computers. Examining the insides of the cast-off computers it was obvious to me that their parts -- the fine wires, disks, motherboards, casings, and other parts -- would make interesting materials from which to make sculptures. Using the dual approach, then, I imagined how best to use the computer parts. Here it occurred to me that they were well-suited to creating complex organic shapes found in nature, such as viruses whose icosahedral structures have been brought to light by microbiologists. This was the catalyst for creating a series called Computer Virus Sculptures.

Floppy was the first sculpture in this series. The sculpture features computer floppy-drive parts and uses them to represent a hybrid of two viruses, an adenovirus (fig. a) and a T4 bacteriophage (fig. b). The creation process began by holding one of 30 floppy-drive cases in my hand and imagining how I could best highlight its visual qualities. Since it was nearly square, a small rhombicosidodecahedron (fig. c) was used as a shell to present and showcase the drives. This polyhedron has 62 faces: 12 pentagons, 20 triangles, and 30 squares. Driven on by the dual approach, I found there were many other computer parts that could be incorporated into this sculpture. Discovering that an icosahedron (fig. d) would fit precisely inside the outer shell (the icosahedron is dual to the dodecahedron and visa versa), I created one to represent an adenovirus and to house power cables which represented the DNA strands of the virus. Acrylic tubes that I had lying around worked well as fibers emanating from the 12 icosahedral vertices of the adenovirus, and a neck and legs were added to create the look of a bacteriophage. Thus, the availability of the materials -- in combination with an optimization process -- led to the creation of the sculpture, a quintessential example of the dual approach.

In this sense, we can say that much work in the Readymade and Found Object movement, tracing back to Picasso's Still Life with Chair Caning (1912) and Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel (1913), has duality in its locus of inspiration.

a) Adenovirus

b) Bacteriophage

c) Small rhombicosidodecahedron

d) Icosahedron

main < Previous   Next > contact