One of the most challenging things about our Llif/Flow project was that we wanted it to be a collaboration between artist and scientist: Not us, Lisa and I, as artists responding to Jonathan as scientist, illustrating (or subverting) his work (or vice versa), but us working together to create something we could all put our names to. And there is something fundamentally different about the approach of an artist and a scientist, and that is attitude towards 'truth' and 'knowing'. The modernist ideal of art as a medium of intellectual emancipation and the post-modernist/post structuralist commitment to undermining all certainties, including the certainty that you possess the truth, does not sit easily with analytical reductionism, seeking hard facts organised by formal logic.
The differences came out in all sorts of ways - from the ways we solved problems to the types of marble runs we created and the way we prioritised form over function (or vice versa). But we found common ground in our interest in experiencing and observing things (including our differences), and it was this commitment to experimentation that made the collaboration really work. In fact, it was one of the most rewarding projects I've ever worked on.
And what we created in the end (that you can read about in previous Llif/Flow blogs), was the product of this approach: an 'immersive' laboratory animated (visually, physically, intellectually, auditarily) by those who came to it. Individual journeys within the lab were therefore unique and both they and the collective experience were equally vivid and unverifiable. All forms of 'knowing' and 'not knowing' were available, in flow, so to speak, and the exploration is still continuing - many people have told us that they have been creating their own marble runs, marble instruments, and we've also received lots of requests to find out more about the science of flow.
Determinism vs non-determinism
One central question Jonathan particularly wanted to answer for Llif/Flow, was how does the science of flow relate to the flow of marbles? It turns out that we found at least part of the answer on day 2 (see blog April 30) of the project, when we visited my barn to make some marble runs together, and Jonathan immediately set about making the practice runs that I'd created (with about 80% success rate for marbles making it from one end to another) into ones that enjoyed 100% success. This illustrated perhaps the biggest difference between artists and scientists: Artists are drawn to unpredictability, whereas scientists are looking for ways of making things more predictable, even if those things look chaotic.
It turns out that this is one of the properties that links the movement of marbles to the science of flow. As Jonathan said in the little A5 flier at the Llif/Flow show:
“Depending on how a marble run is set up, there can be varying amounts of predictability and unpredictability. If ten marbles are released from the same starting point, what paths do they follow? If they all follow the same path, then it is predictable (deterministic), but if they follow different paths then they are unpredictable (non-deterministic). However, even non-deterministic runs will demonstrate most favourable routes if enough marble paths are considered.
"One of the most fundamental properties of a flow is its Reynolds number, this determines whether the flow is laminar (low speeds and Reynolds numbers) or turbulent (high speeds and Reynolds number). If flow is thought of as individual particles following paths, then in laminar flow there is a great deal of consistency in the paths that particles take. These paths are called streamlines, and flow is predictable (deterministic) to a large extent. In turbulent flow, individual particle paths show a great deal of variability and an underlying pattern is only revealed by considering many particle paths. How best to deal with turbulence is what makes the science of flows challenging to understand and predict.
"So there is a parallel between deterministic marble runs and laminar flow and non-deterministic marble runs and turbulent flow. This can be demonstrated with Lindsey and Lisa’s ‘marble drawing machine’ method.
"This involves running many marbles through ink and over paper to produce pictures like the one shown. In this case the marbles roll towards an obstacle (a piece of slate). The analogy with flow is clear to see. A single path tells you very little about the likely behaviour of the marble, however with all the paths, the nature of the obstacle, and even the preferred route the marble takes, can be made out. The dividing point on the stone, where the marble either goes one way or another, is anaologous to a stagnation point in flow around an obstacle, where the flow is briefly brought to rest."
The design of the marble runs outside at Pontio, and the family of LlifFlowioffonau (see June 25 blog) were designed to explore the sights and sounds of different types of flow, llaminar vs turbulent flow, stagnation points and so on. It was, I think, the sights and sounds of turbulent flow that made the day so wild.
More about the science of flow
If you’d like to find out more about the science of flow, Irecommend going to Jonathan’s homepage and scroll to the bottom. There you can download his interactive presentations (Llif Combined Powerpoint) from the show, including some fantastic animations and images and explanations for things like why golf balls are dimpled. Warning: They'll change how you experience the world because flow is everywhere...
And back to Top Trumps
Below are another four of our Llif/Flow Top Trumps, designed to playfully combine science with more 'subjective' views (the scores) on aspects of flow that we'd particularly enjoyed and played with for the show. We had three series of cards, one welsh, two english. Jonathan's presentations (see above) provide animations and explanations of each theme, including examples of sightings of them in the real world (clouds etc). Many thanks to Jonathan who provided the text despite some qualms about the idea, and Alex Davies who illustrated and designed one of the english series, with a cut down version of text.
Next blog: I might write about what next with Llif/Flow...