As entry into open-ended transgressive thinking via diverse materials and studio habits of mind, art is a way to expand science. As entry into micro worlds, data and diverse possibilities, science informs art. Pretending art and science are like magnets forever turned to repel one another leaves a productive interstitial space unexplored. And worse, diminishes both. Works like Bob Sober’s, now on exhibit at Provo’s Library at Academy Square, suggest a fine integration.
Sober is a former architect turned photo artist whose purpose is to reveal nature’s insect artistry to the unaware. The thirty of his images on exhibit in Provo, presented by ExhibitsUSA as Small Wonders: Insects in Focus, are multi-layered human-scale photos, mounted on aluminum sheets, most with white backgrounds as negative space. Sober uses multiple stationary cameras to photograph in layers — x-ray-like, but in full color — through the insect bodies. In these images, he moves the subject, combining between 200 and 1600 photos. Catch that? If not, there’s an ultra-short documentary. (See the camera, see some well-rendered images on the Linked-In learning course, The Practicing Photographer, excerpted for the show on a looping video. But be sure to see the works in person: their iridescence and layered transparency don’t translate as well to the screen.)
Sober’s panels exhibit, in clear detail, each section and layer of an individual beetle, moth or cicada. The viewer experiences painterly color, flow, clarity, design and sectionality. Horns reach up as alien arms. Color is heightened to eye-popping variegation. They are motion in stasis, by way of organic shape.
Artists frequently work from reflexive experience, creating works which afford the viewer space to imbue or explore meaning, absorbing the artist’s process, then layering it with their own. The same freedom isn’t necessarily present in a scientist’s artwork. They work from the constricted or literal, which they then attempt to place fully on expressionistic display, twisting practical knowledge into the impractical. Or into meditation. Data Visualization as an art form lends itself to the kind of abstract thinking that intuits research, or data points, into newly meaningful line, form, shape, color and texture. It becomes a kind of turning inside-out of, basically, numbers/stats. Sober uses his own subjective meaning-making sensitivity, presenting us with these striking images. View them as art, or study them as nature; they’re open to musing.
Sober is not alone in the field of scientists, mathematicians and others exploring their data as art: Utah-born Helaman Pratt Ferguson (Umbilic Torus renditions in sculpture), Nathalie Miebach (weather data weavings) and Refik Anadol (data generated flow) all stand out. Acknowledging that other disciplines are products of creative thinking at its source and seeing their transgressive art creations as part of the art process, can work. There’s something communal about transdisciplinarity, something time-bending, non-fractured. It’s safe to say that Bob Sober’s Small Wonders: Insects in Focus dispels the (supposed) art-science dichotomy.
Bob Sober: Small Wonders, Provo City Library at Academy Square, Provo, through Mar. 17
Patricia Andersen is a philanthropist with an art background, currently working on an MA in art education.