Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Elemental Garden: Where Art and Science Meet

Never having studied High School Chemistry, I am fascinated by how sculptor Rebecca Kamen has taken the elemental table to create a wondrous work of art. The beautiful floating universe of Divining Nature: The Elemental Garden--recently shown at Greater Reston Area Arts Center (GRACE)--is based on the formulas of 83 elements in chemistry. Its amazing that an artist can transform factual information into visual poetry with a lightweight, swirling rhythm of white flowers.

According to Kamen, who teaches art at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, she had the inspiration upon returning home from Chile. After 2 years of research, study and contemplation, she built 3-dimensional flowers based upon the orbital patterns of each atom of all 83 elements in nature, using Mylar to form the petals and thin fiberglass rods to hold each flower together. The 83 flowers vary in size, with the simplest elements being smallest and the most complex appearing larger. The infinite variety of shapes is like the varieties possible in snowflakes; their whiteness and uniformity of material connect them, but individually they are quite different.

One could walk in the garden and feel a mystical sensation in the arrangement of flowers, as intriguing as the "floral arrangement" of each single element. After awhile I discovered that the atomic flowers were installed in a pattern based upon Fibonacci's sequence. Medieval writer Leonardo Fibonacci and ancient Indian mathematicians had discovered the divine proportion present in nature. This mystical phenomenon explains the spirals we see in nature: the bottom of a pine cone, the spirals of shells and the interior of sunflowers among other things. Greeks also created this pattern in the "golden section" which defines the measured harmony of their architecture. Kamen wanted to replicate this beauty found in nature and enlisted the help of an architect, Alick Dearie, to create the 3-D spatial arrangement.

Kamen likened her flowers to the pagodas she had seen in Burma. However, there is an even more interesting, interdisciplinary connection. Research on the Internet brought Kamen to a musician, Susan Alexjander of Portland, OR, who composes music derived from Larmor Frequencies (radio waves)emitted from the nuclei of atoms and translated into tone. Alexjander collaborated, also, and her sound sequences were included with the installation. Putting music and art together with science mirrors the universe and it is pure pleasure to experience this mystery of creation.

This installation is now in storage, but hopefully it will be exhibited again during the International Year of Chemistry, 2011. In the meantime, there are few videos online that can be found on youtube searching the artist's name.


  1. Mesmerizing. Thank you sharing this sculpture... I'm sorry it is in storage and unavailable for viewing.

  2. Some people have asked to hear the sound of the corresponding music. There is a you tube video circulating with the Jane Franklin Dance Company in the Elemental Garden. I will try to set up a link.

  3. Thinking of snowflakes and spinning dishes, as well as an empty space for a lonely electron.

    Jim Saxon

  4. Rebecca Kamen, will be giving a presentation about the intersection of art and science in Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci and others at the Galileo Gala, to be held Tuesday, November 19,2010, 2-4:30 p.m. at the Ernst Center, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale. Other speakers from NVCC and the Smithsonian will also give presentations.

  5. Karnen art is exquisite yet delicate. Thanks for posting all these great and interesting artists.

  6. It is nice that this project is now getting noticed.....Rebecca Kamen is getting a lot of notice. She recently had a gallery showing at the Healing Arts Gallery in Washington.

  7. Rebecca has an exhibition at NIH and she was recently featured on PBS.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.