Science As Art (An Ode to Astrolabes and Wanders)

Sorry for the title fail, I’m really not as creative when it comes to these things as my colleagues. Following my theme from last week, I’d just like to share the cool stuff I found in the process.

I had my science tour for high schoolers (and some who were about my age) which went really well all things considered. As I researched more about astrolabes, I really began to fall in love with them as objects and works of art. The Adler Planetarium had an amazing section dedicated to them, as I mentioned in my last post, but I found this really interesting TEDtalk by Tom Wujec which sums up their history and uses really nicely:

Astrolabes from the Adler Planetarium at the Art Institute of Chicago
Gallery 205

After describing the astrolabes as 16th century smartphones, only with way more intuition in terms of understanding how the planets, stars, and sun moved in the sky, the students all had a moment of self-reflection on just how reliant modern day people are on easy, one-touch do-it-all gadgets. Their beauty as cultural emblems and works of art also merges nicely with the idea of science as art, as both were addressing how to understand life as a whole.

I hate to play favorites, but because it’s officially taken down now, I can’t help but mourn the loss of Marcel Wanders’ Snotty Vase, which I featured in my Science tour as well as in my adult tour on “-isms” with Emily. I know everyone is tired of me talking about this piece, and please feel free to skip through if you’re one of the unfortunate ones to hear me ramble about the amazing process. But for those who do not yet know Snotty Vase, you shall (and must). Caution: please put away all food items before proceeding.

As mentioned many times previously, I have presented Adriaen van der Spelt and Frans van Mieris’ Trompe L’Oeil in scientific lens, focusing on the hyper realistic details of the composition as evidence that artists were intrigued with close looking using innovative microscopic lenses.

Adriaen van der Spelt (Dutch, 1630-1673)
Frans van Mieris (Dutch, 1635-1681)
Trompe-l’Oeil Still Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain, 1658

So how does this seem to relate?

Marcel Wanders (Dutch, born 1963)
Manufacturer: Cappellini S.p.A. (Italian, founded 1946)
Airborne Snotty Vase: Influenza, 2001
Polyamide
15 x 15 x 15 cm (6 x 6 x 6 in.)
Restricted gift of the Architecture & Design Society, 2007.61

Well for one, both are done by Dutch artists, and second, there’s this fascination with flowers:

Ta-da! They’re flower vases!

Yes ladies and gentlemen, they’re vases modeled after a sneeze, or a “snotty,” as Wanders calls it. Using high-tech scanning, Wanders was able to have someone with influenza sneeze into a scanner which then took a picture of the particles emitted. Then magnifying the image on a computer, he was able to isolate a particle identified as influenza; then magnified that by 1000x, added holes, and then used SLS printing to create a polyamide flower vase…modeled after a sick person’s sneeze. Talk about close looking…

Emily and Hannah have written about Tom Burtonwood and Mike Moceri gracing the Art Institute with their awesome FDM printers and spools of plastic which can be found in Legos. I was really interested as well to learn more about 3-D printing since Wanders, ever the innovator, used it for his Airborne Snotty Vase series. Talking to Tom and Mike, I learned more about the various 3-D printing processes and polyamide as a material, thus gaining further insightful appreciation for the Snotty Vase‘s undulating branch-like form being created from a pile of powder and resin, with a laser guiding its shape. Oh the things you learn from all perspectives and studies!
All the fun 3-D printed worksIn addition to giving me knowledge that no art history textbook would most likely hold, it was also really fun playing with Yoda busts, Sue’s skull, and Maurice the lion. To spread the joy, be sure to check them out at this year’s Evanston Maker Faire!

I really appreciate Wanders’ works because they are humorous, but not jokes. They’re thoughtful, well-executed, and above all, conversation starters. Wanders himself regards humor as a beautiful way to open hearts, to connect to people and fill these open hearts with new and positive ideas. His steadfast belief that “we can no longer use humanity to serve technology, we have to use technology to serve humanity” means that he truly believes in the power of design to touch the lives of every day people because they involve functionality. And his dedication to nature and technology as one and the same is also something which has made me consider my interest in science as art, rather than art as science.

For now, I’d like to leave you all with the following Marcel Wanders’ quote, found in his book Behind the Ceiling:

“My most important work is my life, my personal masterpiece. If I have one professional motivation, it’s to inspire people to make their lives masterpieces.”

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About Tiff

B.A. in Art History from Vassar College (2012) with correlates in Education and Economics. Favorite artists featured in the museum: Salvador Dali, Vasily Kandinsky, Isamu Noguchi.

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