The following post is a guest contribution by Brooklyn-based Raphael Rosen, an independent science communicator and museum consultant.
by Raphael Rosen
Anyone who knows me knows I am in love with the intersection of art and science. Scientific illustrations, cool art pieces that combine laboratory research with an aesthetic sensibility, events that explore how science relates to culture – all of these resonate with me in a deep way. So when I recently had the chance to attend the press preview of a new exhibition by Ireland's Science Gallery, I couldn't pass it up.
The exhibition is called Surface Tension: The Future of Water, and it explores the scientific, political, and environmental aspects of this most precious of liquids. The show's creator, Dublin-based Science Gallery, is associated with Trinity College and is known for creating innovative exhibitions based on a theme. For instance, one past show, called Elements, explored the beauty of chemistry. The Gallery also recently created a show called Happy?, which explores happiness by letting visitors engage in on-site psychology experiments and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Trinity College Dublin School of Psychology.
Surface Tension tackles a more serious issue: the place of water in human society and how humanity might deal with future water shortages. The show encompasses a huge range of artistic responses to this topic: one sculpture, BIT.FALL, was created by artist Julius Popp and forms words by timing the dropping of water from a series of suspended nozzles; the words are gleaned from an algorithm that determines what is trending on the Internet. I could have watched that piece for hours: there's little more entrancing than watching words appear in mid-air and fall to the ground like rain. Another piece, called Event Horizon, by artist Petroc Sesti, consists of a large glass bell jar filled with optic oil that spins in a never-ending vortex. Urban Water Needs, by Matthew Laws and Hal Watts, shows the predicted global water usage for 2030 by country, with the swelling of a sponge on a map indicating how much water each nation might consume. Hydrogeny, by artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitri Gelfand, consists of a tank of water undergoing electrolysis, with a white laser illuminating the bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen as they rise to the surface. The bubbles diffract the white light into green, red, and blue, creating a shimmering effect that looks like the twinkling of stars in outer space, or a multicolored cloud chamber.
One of the most interesting aspects of the show, apart from the artwork, is the Science Gallery itself. The Gallery recently received a grant of one million euros from Google.org, Google's philanthrophic arm, to create a global network of innovative art-and-science spaces. The Science Gallery is planning on opening seven more spaces by 2020 and partnering with academic and cultural institutions worldwide. Permeable boundaries between scientific research and the arts are spreading, and in fact may soon be coming to a gallery near you.
Surface Tension is showing at the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in New York City, at 540 W. 21st St., from May 30-August 11, 2012, Tuesday-Saturday, 12-6pm. Read more about both the gallery and the show at www.eyebeam.org.
Raphael Rosen is an independent science communicator and museum consultant based in Brooklyn. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, Sky & Telescope, Discover, NASA, and the Encyclopedia of Life. You can find him at www.raphaelprosen.com and on Twitter at @raphaelrosen22.