The Nature of Art: My Journey Combining Science and Art – Eliza Le Mire

Check out more of Eliza’s art on Instagram @elizalemireart!

INSPIRATIONS  

Through art I explore how we relate to nature. Science and mathematics are central themes; as our scientific understanding of the world evolves, our relationship with nature and the way we see the world also changes. Patterns and forms in nature can be described mathematically, for example by using the Fibonacci sequence or fractal geometry. Patterns can be emphasised artistically to highlight the mathematical basis of physical forces in nature.  

I’m also interested in exploring human experience and meaning. Science is about gathering information/data from the natural world and using this information to understand how it works. I’m interested in how art can find meaning in this information and capture the human relationship to it. Through art I also explore the neuroscience of intuition (why do artists choose certain colours/forms/arrangements?) and the way that specific objects/forms may evoke emotion and nostalgia associated with past experiences.  

Below I’ve included a few examples of mathematical descriptions of the patterns in nature which result from physical forces. I highly recommend first checking out Phenomena (2021) for an eclectic artistic rendition of these natural forces (it’s super cool and definitely worth a watch). Phenomena is a short film created through the collaboration of artists and scientists; “art and science collide to take us on a psychedelic journey through the fabric of the universe, exploring the forces of nature that creates the universe as we know it.” – iView.

“The story of the universe is visible all around us, written in the patterns of nature.”

– Phenomena

Mathematical regularities are surprisingly prevalent in nature. The Fibonacci sequence (a sequence where each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers) is one of the best known examples due to its significance in the field of phyllotaxis (the study of the arrangements of flowers, seeds, petals, branches and leaves in plants). The number of petals on a flower, the number of spirals traveling in a certain direction on the bottom of a pinecone, and the number of spirals visible in the centre of a sunflower usually correspond to a number in the Fibonacci sequence!  

Interestingly, the way that the seeds in a sunflower’s centre line up as they form their characteristic spiral rotation pattern is also defined by a mathematical ratio known as the Golden Ratio, or specifically Phi (φ). φ is an irrational number that is seen frequently in nature and evidence of φ has even been found at the quantum level, where magnetic atoms that are linked tend to vibrate at frequencies defined by φ! For an entertaining introduction to some interesting mathematical patterns seen in nature, take a look at the book Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths by Eddie Woo, who describes  the idea that “we live in a patterned universe, a cosmos”.  

Fractal geometries also define patterns in nature. Fractals are forms characterised by self-similarity, where at different scales the same underlying pattern is visible. If you can visualise a fern you might notice that each individual frond exhibits the same structure as the entire branch, and each finger on a frond is also defined by this structure. Fractals are also seen in blood vessels, leaf veins, tree branches, and lightning where each branch displays a self-similar pattern at multiple scales. Additionally, if you have ever noticed that blood vessels, leaf veins, tree branches, and lightning all seem to have a similar structure you might be interested in the constructal law of physics. This characteristic shape reoccurs throughout nature in different forms as it is the structure that mathematically allows for the most efficient distribution of imposed currents. The intricate patterns in snowflakes contain clues that reflect a number of physical laws that define natural phenomena. Theories about electromagnetism, gravity, nuclear forces and symmetry define their structures, however each snowflake is unique – this is a neat illustration of how simple laws can describe disparate and complex phenomena, and how the patterns in nature are a shadow of underlying physical laws. Take a look at The Universe in a Snowflake; Forces of Nature presented by physicist Brian Cox for a light-hearted documentary-style interpretation.

ARTWORKS  

My Musical Landscape series is inspired by these mathematical forces that shape natural phenomena.

Above – Musical Landscape series (2021) (Koala, Kookaburra, Emu and Emu in Space)

“The mathematical patterns that underlie natural phenomena in the universe are a fascinating subject. The patterns found in sounds are one reflection of the underlying order of natural phenomena. In a playful rendition, the artworks in the Musical Landscape series explore how sounds can be represented visually through repeating patterns. Lines, colours and shapes intersect to reveal visually unique patterns of sounds found in nature.”  

Growing up I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time in contact with nature and my artworks are influenced by my experiences of the Australian wilderness. I find that there is something magical about these places and I am inspired by the intricate patterns and textures that I see around me. I became interested in the Biophyllia Hypothesis; the idea that people (and animals) have an innate genetically predetermined affinity with nature due to our history of evolving in symbiosis with the  natural environment. Through art I am exploring the use of patterns that connect animals/people with their natural environment to reflect this intimate relationship.  


My Atmospheric Landscape series is inspired by my study of neuroscience and explores why visual forms and objects can evoke certain emotions and feelings of nostalgia. Recent research highlights the importance of specific brain areas including the inferior frontal gyrus, substantia nigra, cerebellum, and insula in mediating the emotional experience of nostalgia in response to certain music (Barrett and Janata, 2016) and these findings may generalise to other stimuli. 

Above – Atmospheric Landscape series (2021). (Left – Listening to Lo-Fi Music, right –  Bookshop Cafe)

“Colour. Pattern. Form. Why do certain objects evoke specific emotions? Maybe they unearth a sense of nostalgia; we see a colour, or a shape, and unconsciously a part of us is unknowingly transported to a previous time or place. How about objects that are carried through time to become cultural symbols – objects that ‘have character’? The alluring charm of a vintage record player or the all-too-familiar retro stripes that speak to the 1970s. Through my Atmospheric Landscape series, I intend to express an  emotion associated with a specific time/place/experience. I play with pattern and colour to invoke different emotions and associations.” 

I am also intrigued by how the structure of our brain is reflected through the art that we make. As a form of self-exploration I largely paint from imagination and let my intuition govern the art-making process, where the arrangements of colours/lines/forms that I produce reflect unconscious mental processes. This is particularly interesting from my perspective as when I create art it is like I am on autopilot and it is  often a mystery to me why I paint things with a certain aesthetic. I’m continuing to  explore research on the neuroscience behind the art-making process and how the patterns and arrangements created by an artist relate to their brain. I’m interested in similarities to the patterns found in nature and how this reflects our connection with our natural environment.  I have also been inspired by other examples of art exploring our understanding of neuroscience. In particular Self Reflected, a collaboration between neuroscientist Dr. Greg Dunn and Applied physicist Dr. Brian Edwards, is a fascinating rendition of the electrical wiring of the brain.

There are fundamental intersections between art and neuroscience. People are often fascinated by artworks as they are a window into another person’s mind, and art promotes inquiry into the mental processes that inspired the artist’s imagination and visualisations. I am continuing to explore how art can capture this idea and the cellular pathways behind these processes. 

FUTURE DIRECTIONS  

As I learn more about science, my art practice has become my dialogue with the world around me and it reflects my developing understanding of how it works. As my knowledge of neuroscience evolves, I hope to further integrate this understanding into my art. I hope to create art that can inspire interest in science through blending exploration of human experience with our ever-evolving understanding of the world. It has been said that we are the universe’s way of experiencing itself, as we are ourselves part of it – drawn from the same mathematical fabric as the rest of universe. I am  constantly inspired by this idea and I hope that my art similarly can reflect appreciation of not only how the universe works, but also our meaning and place within it.  

REFERENCES

Frederick Barrett and Petr Janata, ‘Neural responses to nostalgia-evoking music modelled by elements of dynamic musical structure and individual differences in affective traits’, Neuropsychologia, Volume 91, 2016, Pages 234-246.


About Eliza: Hi, my name is Eliza and I’m studying Health and Medical Science (majoring in  neuroscience). I create artworks lying at the intersection of art and science that explore our relationship to the natural world. Through my art practice I hope to be able to inspire appreciation of neuroscience, nature and the laws of science that shape the world around us!

More of Eliza’s art is on Instagram @elizalemireart

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