Valluzzi’s metaphoric abstractions on science draw from ideas, symbols, types of order, and imagery in the sciences. Science Visualization for non-art purposes involves several layers of highly codified abstraction. During this process visual renditions of complex hypotheses stand in for data and phenomena much in the manner of a metaphoris narrative used to convey a complex idea. Valluzzi’s first series of Science-Inspired abstractions speak more often to these hypotheses and theoretical frameworks than to science images or phenomenology. Artistic expression and unusual visual choices give colorful voice to the scintific hypothesis as metaphor.
Many of these are considerably less “abstract” once the viewer is acclimated to the language of visual representation and symbolism particular to the science topics in the painting. Strong influences from imaging of the micro and nano worlds are typical, and include peculiarities of microscope images such as flattening of the visual field, and large indistinct distant out-of-plane objects. There are also influences from areas of theoretical condensed and soft matter physics, evidenced in the way colors and shapes are arranged. Often the patterns on canvas are strangely reminiscent of order to disorder transitions, spontaneous phase transitions, ideals and models for cooperativity in soft matter and the hierarchical arrangements of statistical thermodynamics. Occasional use of mathematical equations makes these relationships explicit.
In Dr. Valluzzi’s second series of Science-inspired abstractions, Valluzzi moves away from abstract metaphors of pure theory to include creative visualizations of phenomenology and technology.
When a scientific idea is derived from data and then developed into a visual image, there are layers of abstraction and interpretation of the data. Typically raw data is sought to confirm or disprove a rough hypothesis. The raw data is compiled, treated mathematically (often through the use of established models) and developed into intelligible, presentable data. This data is then mapped, measured and used to form a picture of the result. The result may be further mapped, schematicized, diagrammed and embellished or simplified for purposes of explanation. The interaction between data and hypothesis may then be further diagrammed to convey a conclusion. All of these steps occur along tacitly well-understood rules using accepted symbols, simplifications and styles. This complex process, incorporating a great deal of specialized tacit knowledge and symbol use, can make scientific illustrations seem impenetrable to the uninitiated (research science – not popularizations).
Often times people with a connection to the sciences do not see Valluzzi’s work as abstract at all. Rather they see themes and visual ideas that are instantly recognizable and associated with particular branches of Science. This has been true even with viewers only tangentially connected to the sciences. For example someone with a Scientist or Science student room mate or friend will often recognize and immediately respond to the themes in Valluzzi’s paintings. In a very real way, Art provides a path for a non-scientist to appreciate certain aspects of Science that are not often popularized. Through Valluzzi’s creative and thoughtful use of symbols and sidestepping of the usual process of scientific diagramming, an approachable Art is created that still speaks to the complex science that inspired it.
The unique properties and flexibility of the acrylic painting system open up a range of opportunities to represent both technology and data in very immediate ways. Valluzzi’s second series of Science Inspired paintings use extruded acrylic to create complex three dimensional shapes, transparent acrylic to embed complex patterns in crystal clear films, glass lenses and optics – surplus recovered from scientific, military, and other applications – and unusual materials only recently available to artists. These media and approaches create active works of art that change subtly with viewer angle. The themes in the second series include more microchips, microfluidics, networks, materials nanostructures and microstructures, and explicit equations and representations of technical ideas than in the earlier series.
Dance of the Gauge Bosons
As an example, “Dance of the Gauge Bosons in Vacuum” incorporates clear artistic influences from a number of my favorite 20th Century artists. Perhaps less obvious to many, but still very present are influences from Physics, especially the visual content and the visual imagery of Physics experiments and theory.
A gauge boson is an exchange particle. Gauge bosons are traded between other particles in order to tell the particles what to do. The bosons “carry” forces like the electroweak force (for example). One way to think of it is that exchanging bosons for aprticles is like exchanging text messages for teens. “Here I am, Here is where I am going, be aware of my presence and trajectory”. The most famous, as yet unconfirmed, boson is the Higgs Boson, the carrier of mass. Since it is elusive and carries such an important property, it has grabbed the popular imagination and is sometimes called “the God particle”.
In particle physics many new particles were discovered using a famous detector called a cloud chamber. The cloud chamber is a box filled with gas and moisture – a fog or cloud. When an energetic particle goes through the box, it knocks electrons off the molecules of the gas, ionizing it. This sets a chain of events in motion that leads to droplets of moisture much in the way a jet traces its path through the sky with a cloud trail. Unlike jets particles don’t often move in straight lines. Cloud chamber pictures are typically a mad mashup of swirling spiral paths with tangents branching out into other spirals and different types of nodes. Some of this geometry has been incorporated into “Dance of the Gauge Bosons.
The last Physics element incorporated is the Feynman diagram. Feynman diagrams are odd little cartoons that are used to represent a lot of the math in particle interactions. The little cartoons can be added and manipulated to simplify the math. The cartoons have fanciful names like “the sunset diagram” for an interaction that folds back onto itself. The diagrams for boson exchange use little squiggly interconnecting lines to show the exchange interaction. These are present as details in the painting.
“Density of States” takes an artistic look at a subject from Chemical Physics (Quantum Mechanics of Molecules). The Density of States of a molecule, ion, or material describes how many tightly spaced and overlapping energy levels are available, and determines how many electrons can delocalize (how much current can conduct). The chemical structures of a nanoparticle and several organometallic catalyst molecules are depicted. In the molecule sketches (Kekulke diagrams) areas with a high density of states and high electron delocalization are gilded with gold foil. Jagged lines that are typical of plots of molecular density of states calculations form the background and bits of the math used to set up a Hartree Fock Slater calculation pepper the background. This calculation is one of the many methods used to approximate solutions to problems in Molecular Quantum Mechanics and to calculate electron densities.
“Information Network” is a playful depiction of an internet. I have been told that it resembles actual maps of internet information flow in Thailand. There are broad trunks of information flow, and many smaller interconnected paths. Retroreflective glass beads in the painting loosely represent data packets, which pile up waiting at bottlenecks in the system. Retroreflective spherical lenses are used on road signs to make them glow in a car’s headlights, but remain dark and non-distracting to all the other drivers. The light is reflected from the back surface of the bead, picking up the colors underneath the retroreflective layer and making them seem to glow. When the observer is out of alignment, the beads are almost invisible. In a painting this creates the illusion of different areas lighting up as the viewer moves past, like a signal being transferred.