Frames

I often think about frames. From framed pictures of mummies found in Egyptian tombs to the early and prolific use of frames in religious settings, Van Gogh best described them when he said that “a picture without a frame is like a soul without a body.” As soon as works of art started populating royal residences the value of the artwork became intertwined with the craftsmanship of the frame that contained it. By placing a frame around an image, we validate it and allow those interacting with it to peak into the soul of the artifact, the creator, and the connection to our time. Nowadays, frames are no longer these intricate surrounding structures; nevertheless, although often invisible and vague, they still play a momentous role in how we perceive and cogitate on the artwork.

About ten years ago, the Millennium Simulation used more than 10 billion particles to trace the evolution of the matter distribution in a cubic region of the Universe over two billion light-years on a side. It kept busy the principal supercomputer at the Max Planck Society’s Supercomputing Centre in Garching, Germany for more than a month in 2004. By applying sophisticated modelling techniques to the 25 Terabytes of stored output, Virgo scientists were able to recreate evolutionary histories both for the 20 million or so galaxies which populate this enormous volume and for the supermassive black holes which occasionally power quasars at their hearts. By comparing such simulated data to large observational surveys, one could attempt to clarify the physical processes underlying the buildup of real galaxies and black holes.

Movies, images, and prints were accurately crafted to visually highlight and share the results of the simulation with scientists and non-scientists alike. Arguably, the artistic value of these pieces matches their scientific worth. While the latter is constrained to the rigorous realm of reason, the artistic value should always be approached without constraints. The questions one may try to answer may be the same but the complementary answers may not; focused if within a scientific context, open-ended if answered within an artistic one. In this particular case, the more we think about it, the less these answers have to say about the specific large scale structure of the universe, and the more they have to say about ourselves. The context—or frame—in which artifacts are presented to us play a pivotal role in how we try to make sense of them.

I cannot help but wonder what the effect of pervading an art space with them would be. It would definitely be a great opportunity to simultaneously reach out from a science and art perspective, and to embrace either or both with a diverse approach.

In this context, one could think about the by-products of a visual scientific simulation such as the Millennium Simulation, and the simulation itself, as code art. Or as scientific readymades, similar in a way to Marcel Duchamp’s The Fountain. Scientific readymades in an art environment become then devices to explore science and art, and agitate a conversation that is long due. While science works to order the substance of the world, art orders its meaning.

When Frost Science opens in Miami’s Museum Park, I see the Knight Plaza, sited between the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the new science museum, as both a literal and metaphoric symbol of what may grow into a conduit between two communicating vessels containing a homogeneous fluid, that of human perception. But I would not stop there, as it blooms, Miami finds itself in the position of developing the necessary frames to bring together the many cultural institutions and startups it hosts to think about the world that surrounds us in a more wholistic and inclusive way.

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Millenium Simulation by Springer et al. 2005

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