Symmetry, nature and art – new artwork under development

(Author: Mark Ware MFA) I am currently developing a series of artworks that will further explore my interest in symmetrical patterns. This latest body of work will tour England next year and will be comprised of sixteen framed fabric prints. The artwork will be strongly influenced by the wavelength project and our investigations into how we respond to and benefit from exposure to the natural environment. Studies have shown that we all respond well to the natural environment. This is often referred to as The Biophilia Effect. It is claimed to apply even if we simply look at an image of nature, for example a photograph of a forest. Looking at a photograph of a forest stimulates a positive response even if the viewer doesn’t visit the forest.

The new art will consist of what appear to be symmetrical imagery, all of which will be taken from nature. Why the interest in symmetrical patterns? As part of Science Stroke Art 2014, I wrote a blog about an incident that triggered the beginning of my symmetrical art. The incident took place during 2000:

‘I was standing on a bus travelling into Brighton from Hove, four years after having a severe stroke. The bus stopped to let people off. A woman frantically tried to get past me by pressing a pushchair into my legs, causing immense stroke-related pain. I quietly told the woman I was ‘disabled’, to which she replied angrily, ‘People like you shouldn’t be on buses!’ People like me?! What did she mean by that? She knew nothing about me or my past. All I knew was that in my post-stroke world I appeared to be part of a new group,.’

This incident represented a major change in my life. I realised that I had been transported into being part of a group I didn’t recognise or understand without being asked.

Stills from The Dog That Barked Like A Bird (2004)
Stills from The Dog That Barked Like A Bird (2004)  Photos and artwork: Mark Ware

My first response to this was the creation of images that on first glance appeared symmetrical (mirrored), but on closer inspection revealed non-symmetrical variations throughout. At the time I felt this work represented the incident on the bus: The woman judged me without looking further. Some images were ‘less symmetrical’ than others as in the case of these two images taken from a video composition entitled, ‘The Dog That Barked Like A Bird’. The video composition was based on a diary I kept after my stroke (2004). Some of the diary was written at a time when I couldn’t see clearly enough to write and so I had to draw the shapes of words from memory.

Two Native American Indian parfleces (19th century) Photo: copyright British Musem
Two Native American Indian Parfleces (19th century) Photos: copyright British Museum

On reflection (ironic) I realise that I have been interested in symmetrical patterns since my student days at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I was first made aware of Native American Indian Parfleches.  Parfleches were carrying cases made from rawhide (often buffalo) and used by nomadic tribes in North America. As a student, what drew me to Parfleches was their remarkable abstract symmetrical decoration that seemed to resonate with artists’ work I was studying at the time, including that of Jasper Johns.

28 x 3D artwork banner exhibition at Exeter Cathedral August/September 2012 artwork and photos: Mark Ware
28 x 3D artwork banner exhibition at Exeter Cathedral August/September 2012 artwork and photos: Mark Ware

Since The Dog That Barked Like A Bird, I have continued to be drawn to symmetrical patterns. When I produced a 3D artwork banner exhibition for display at Exeter Cathedral during August and September 2012, again mirrored imagery was involved. This time because it related the design of the cathedral. Exeter Cathedral is unusual in that its layout is largely symmetrical, not just in its plan but also in the placement of feature such as memorials. Where there are large memorials on the north side of the cathedral, you will find similarly presented memorials opposite on the south side.

Hide at Sevenoaks Nature Reserve (left) and close up of a leaf. Photos: Mark Ware
Hide at Sevenoaks Nature Reserve (left) and a close up of a leaf. Photos: Mark Ware

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the new collection of fabric prints to tour England next year will feature symmetrical artwork designs that contain imagery taken from nature. What makes the new collection particularly interesting for me is that it will be evaluated and analysed by psychologist Nichola Street throughout its development. Nichola is a psychologist working in psycho-aesthetics, a field that aims to understand the dynamic process of aesthetic responses and experiences of beauty.

Nichola says, ‘Aesthetic judgments are made several times a day without conscious awareness however, from a scientific point of view, encapsulating what contributes to a positive or negative aesthetic experience has been problematic. Despite these problems, there have been found several factors that consistently contribute to beauty including, the presence of symmetry, specific colours and natural patterns. However there are still questions and struggles to quantify this complex dynamic and individual processes. The question remains if beauty can be classified clearly or whether it lies ‘in the eye of the beholder’ as a product of the individual experience. The ongoing challenge of the field is to resolve this juxtaposition.  My research background specifically lies within responses to natural beauty and the consistency and inconsistency of preference across culture and individual experience. I have previously conducted large-scale cross-cultural studies exploring these hypotheses and found the environment, gender and age are predictors of fractal preference. My work aims to quantifying the complexity in nature, using fractal measurements, which offer one way by which we can begin to quantify the natural world.

Brenchley Wood Nature Reserve, Kent  Photos: Mark Ware
Brenchley Wood Nature Reserve, Kent Photos: Mark Ware

I am excited to work alongside Mark Ware in an attempt to unpick the artistic processes involved in the formation of a piece of art in this rare opportunity for artist and scientist to work so close together. This collaboration also aims to approach aesthetic experiences from both the artistic development stage and the artistic response stage from the public, in which we are excited to work together approaching beauty from both artistic and scientific standpoints.’

It is hoped that the tour for this new work will begin February 2016 and will include a range of unusual venues ranging from cathedrals to wildlife nature reserve visitor centres.

Mark Ware

2 thoughts on “Symmetry, nature and art – new artwork under development

  1. Hello Mark, how wonderful to see this new project of yours. As a Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist member of Soka Gakkai International. The Buddhist principle of the oneness of life and the environment describes the inseparable relationship of the individual and the environment. People generally have a tendency to regard the environment as something separate from themselves, and from the viewpoint of that which we can observe, we are justified in drawing this distinction. However, from the viewpoint of ultimate reality, the individual and the environment are one and inseparable. Life manifests itself in both a living subject and an objective environment.
    I look forward to seeing your project evolve and have gratitude and appreciation for all your contributions to my project way back in 2007/8. warmest wishes Pauline

    1. Thank you for your comments, Pauline. They make so much sense. They could not be more apt because at the heart of the project is an exploration of what it is to be human and how we connect with our wonderful planet.

      During the time of Leonardo Da Vinci it was possible for one person to study many subjects. Da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, astronomer, cartographer, botanist, architect, musician, historian and writer. An incredible achievement. But it is no longer possible to study so widely because of the dramatic increase in knowledge since that time. As a result, people specialise, often focusing on narrow fields of study. My hope with the wavelength project is that people from a wide variety of areas of expertise will connect with what we’re doing and share their thoughts, as you have kindly done.

      Returning to your comments about the Buddhist principle of the oneness of life and the environment, I feel strongly about that view from my own modest experience of stroke. When I had my stroke, my world was dramatically altered. One of the first realisations I had was that I was not as important as I thought I was, but I was ‘significant’ nevertheless. Suddenly I felt a great connection to the natural world around me.

      Once again, thank you for your comments, Pauline.

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