Rebecca Kamen’s artwork is inspired by the process of scientific discovery. Her investigations of scientific drawings and writings from rarely seen manuscripts form the basis of her artwork. Informed by wide-ranging research into cosmology, history, and philosophy, her work reflects how the ideas of science permeate all areas of human endeavor—including art.
Through residencies and research opportunities, she has investigated rare scientific books and manuscripts at the libraries of the American Philosophical Society, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and the Cajal Institute in Madrid, using these significant scientific collections as a catalyst for the creation of her work. She has also conducted research at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University, the Kavli Institute at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Neuroscience Program at the National Institutes of Health, where she was artist-in-residence in 2012.
Kamen’s artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She is the recipient of many awards and fellowships including a Chemical Heritage Foundation Travel Award and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. As professor emeritus at Northern Virginia Community College, her research and lectures explore how the arts and creativity can enhance innovation and the understanding of science. Her exhibition, “Fundamental Forces,” is on view at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, through July 6, 2015.
—Alana Quinn, Cultural Programs, National Academy of Sciences
Images courtesy of the artist. For more information please visit the artist’s website.
The art/science work has been influenced by research in astrophysics and neuroscience.
Inspired by gravitational wave physics and Einstein’s notion of Gedankenexperiment (thought experiment), this installation interprets the tracery patterns of the orbits of black holes and the outgoing gravitational wave of this astronomical event. The inclusion of the fossils references similar patterns found within micro and macro scales. Kamen created it in celebration of the centennial of Einstein’s discovery of general relativity.
Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden
This sculpture and sound installation translate chemistry’s Periodic Table, a chart of letters and numbers, into a garden of sculptural elements based on geometry and atomic numbers. Laid out in a Fibonacci spiral, the sculptures symbolize the orbital patterns of the first eighty-three naturally occurring elements. It also includes a series of wall sculptures inspired by the Platonic solids which Plato associated with the four classical elements of earth, air, water, and fire.
These layered wall reliefs explore nature as an energy mapping system. Informed and inspired by micro and macro views of the Universe, as well as other scientific visualization models such as fluid mechanics, these sculptures interpret and make visible the fluid energy of matter, creating a bridge between art and science.
Manuscript as Muse
Many people think of old books as obsolete, especially in the digital age. As an artist, I have always perceived books as a source for creative inspiration.
The books I viewed during my residency at the American Philosophical Society Library took me on a remarkable intellectual journey. One of the most exciting observations was how drawing became a visual recording device for scientists before the invention of the camera. Looking at the sketchbooks of Lewis and Clark, the incredibly detailed bug drawings of John LeConte, and John Benbow’s sketches in The Bee Book, to name a few, I found myself humbled by the authors’ ability to record their observations, not only via the written word, but through beautifully rendered forms.
The works in the series Manuscript as Muse allude to the visual power of books. The process of layering graphite and acrylic on mylar— like pages from a book when viewed together—create a complex visual story.
This series explores ideas of alteration, transposition, and transcendence. Each sculpture incorporates concepts of mapping time and occurrence. It also reflects Kamen’s longstanding fascination with the relationship between scientific and sacred motifs.
This series of complex wire sculptures was created for an exhibition at the American Center for Physics celebrating the centennial of Einstein’s discovery of special relativity.