Artist’s Statement • Cloud Anatomy Series • Helen Glazer
My latest body of work has been influenced by ideas from chaos theory and complexity theory that look at natural phenomena as diverse as the shape of coastlines, the growth of tree limbs or the movement of fluids, and finds that while such systems proceed according to general rules, they are never entirely predictable owing to a myriad of subtle interactions. I'm particularly interested in the characteristic movements found in all flowing media: for example, rhythmic waves, vortices, spiraling movements and meandering curves. These currents of movement can be said to have surfaces and three-dimensional form, even if those forms are too fleeting to be closely observed before they change, for example the surface of moving water, or a spiraling curl of rising smoke. Advances in science have heightened our awareness of constant change, that stability is an illusion, and that the reality we live in is being replaced moment by moment. I've come to see the artistic process as analogous to the dynamical systems posited by chaos and complexity theories -- that is, an artwork takes shape within particular conditions of time, place, medium and the artist's own hand and sensibility, and unfolds as these forces interact.
In my Cloud Anatomy series, digital photographs of clouds have been edited in Adobe Photoshop to reveal the varied forms and textures created by the complex rhythms of flowing currents of air in the sky. The editing process brings out the spatial dimensions of the form by increasing the tonal range and isolating the outer contours of the cloud mass. While sometimes background details are deleted or smoothed out, and colors and tones may be intensified or deepened, the actual shapes, textures and forms found in nature are not augmented with invented forms, nor are they combined with other images, or revised by means of Photoshop's "painting" tools. The resulting images reveal nuances that the camera captures, but the naked eye fails to see, and conventional image processing does not show.
The images emphasize the drama of clouds as fluid entities in the midst of transformation, and how the forces at work in their formation and dissolution clearly relate to earthly phenomena such as flowing water. They also take on a gestural quality, reminiscent of organisms.
The resulting images are produced as archival pigment prints, but I have also taken the process a step further by realizing one of these images in three-dimensional form. Working with a technician at a three-dimensional digital imaging firm, I rendered one of the cloud images as a 3D form. This was output to high-density Styrofoam, from which a polyurethane mold was made. The sculpture was then cast in a material called Forton MG, a polymer-modified gypsum compound strengthened with fiberglass strands, which dries to a stone-like finish, and finally, painted with oils.
This project relates to major trends in contemporary art related to science. Some artists focus on environments that have traditionally been neglected or overlooked; others explore the life of materials and how they respond to physical processes. Conceptual approaches such as chaos theory inspire artists to view the natural world as intricate systems and networks that reveal patterns beneath the apparent randomness. All of these concepts inform my current work.