REVIEW: Humanity and Molecular Science through the dance performance "Hidden Fields" by Dr. David Glowacki
By Joe Ferguson
The first day of organic chemistry my professor recommended we purchase a molecular model kit. He believed we could not fully understand the structure of organic molecules unless we engaged the structures haptically--i.e., by touch. I did not buy a kit; kits were expensive and I besides, was a biology major. The thing about those cool-looking kits was that they were largely inaccurate. The models implied a passive, rigid unseen world where molecules bound statically to one another in order to form tangible, observable materials. Molecules, however, are dynamic, attracting and repelling constantly. Those grid models might have been okay for a conceptual level of understanding, but with the technology available today we have the ability to more accurately illustrate those unseen worlds.
Molecular physics and cutting-edge technology were clearly the inspiration for Dr. David Glowacki, a Stanford academic and Royal Society Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. He collaborated with a team of visual artists, music technologists, computer programmers, and dancers to produce Hidden Fields, a performance that makes visible the effects of human movement on the invisible energetic world of atoms and molecules. Hidden Fields played at Z Space, March 12th-14th, in San Francisco, CA.
The performance is made possible through what Glowacki calls dS (danceroom Spectroscopy) Technology. A set of 3d-imaging cameras detect the dancers’ bodies and sends the data to a computer which then interprets the dancers as energy fields and creates corresponding energy avatars. The avatars are then embedded in a molecular simulation of atomic liquid composed of hydrogen, helium, carbon, oxygen, and iron, which is projected on screen. As the dancers move, their avatars create waves and vibrations in the atomic liquid, which the computer analyses to create graphics and sound in real-time response to the human movement. A super-fast computer is necessary to create these effects, operating on an architecture of over 5,500 graphics cores. The result is a subtle performance of interactive graphics and soundscapes sculpted into a projected, virtual field.
Glowacki provided a lengthy introduction, bringing the audience up to date on molecular theory and explaining the remarkable technology needed to produce the sound and visual effects.
The performance was a brief 50 minutes but at times felt repetitive. The interactive nature of the graphics was mesmerizing, especially when framed by the understanding provided by Glowacki’s introduction. Regardless, I still could not distill any particular narrative--perhaps that was the point. Nature, hidden or otherwise, exists without the need for interpretation or the human imposition of beginnings, middles, and endings.
After the formal performance, the audience was invited to the dance floor to interact with the technology and artists.
Hidden Fields was a unique performance, and, I believe, posed a challenge for the SciArt field. Young science students have grown-up in a world of computer-generated visual effects and interactivity. The expectations of these digital natives may impose a demand on science illustration that precludes 2D sketches of molecular grids or organic chemistry modeling kits. The results of such high-tech, interactive illustration will inspire greater understanding and potentially more engagement with the sciences.
Hidden Fields played at Z Space, March 12th-14th, in San Francisco, CA.