Coded Chimera

Coded Chimera: exploring relationships between sculptural form making and biological morphogenesis through computer modelling.

Initially inspired by the work of biologist D’Arcy Thompson’s transformational grids, the research journeys into the realms of biological dynamics to develop new sculptural forms.

Using scans of animal specimens and new software tools developed for me by the Cambridge Computer Lab, I have morphed and blended digital meshes of different species to convey qualities of fluidity and mutability.

The convergence of the zoological form and computational strategies is guided by a rather un-scientific and poetic concept: the chimera, a composite of different animal features which make a link with a long tradition in art where paradoxical conjunctions represent psychological integrations.

I have worked closely with Prof Norman MacLeod, Keeper of Paleontology at the Natural History Museum and Alan Blackwell, Reader in Interdisciplinary Design at the Cambridge Computer Lab whose generous contributions have made this project possible.

A catalogue published by Crucible Network (available from this site) accompanies the exhibition. Excerpts from the three texts appear below:

As work progressed I became less interested in the deformations of the composite of a cat and a crocodile, the expression of the disjunction of reptilian and mammalian anatomy. Rather than looking at the chimera in a literal, prosaic way, I responded more to the renderings which expressed a fluidity, a transforming from one condition to another, a sense of becoming another, an other. Although the specimens I paired had, very generally, similar body plans, trying to “integrate” their respective meshes revealed considerable stresses. So, the sense of fluidity has to be qualified: the meshes also judder, shake and break apart, being the products of dynamic and turbulent reactions. That smooth “blob-like” topology with which we are familiar in contemporary computer graphics and zoomorphic inspired architecture was certainly put to the test in making chimera.

from “Mediated Animals, Little Monsters”Bruce Gernand

As with many activities of the Crucible network, this project was framed explicitly as an experiment in crossing knowledge boundaries[1]. Collaborations incorporating professional arts or craft practices are often especially stimulating, because they draw on tacit or unarticulated knowledge that may be surprising in a scientific context. However in this project, Bruce Gernand is one of the most articulate sculptors we could have worked with, and he provided lucid descriptions of those aspects of his work that we might in other contexts have mystified as inarticulable ‘craft’. Furthermore, his research questions extended into our domain to an extent that seldom interests the artists we collaborate with. This project was itself concerned with the articulation of knowledge – with taxonomy as a campaign for ordering, managing and constructing the world. This meant that, rather than proceeding as we often would through a process of describing, this project involved at least as much un-describing.

from “(En)Codings and (Un)Descriptions – reflection on collaboration with Bruce Gernand and Norman MacLeod” Alan F. Blackwell

Bruce’s idea was deceptively simple, to develop Thompson’s transformation-grid approach into a computer tool that would allow artists to ‘morph’ 3D scans of objects into each other. Using such a tool intermediates between the end-member forms could be represented and realized physically through use rapid prototyping techniques. Of course, morphing methods are reasonably common these days. But Bruce wanted to use Thompson’s methods as the basis for the morphing and, more unusual still, he wanted to create intermediate forms between species that few biologists – even Thompson – would ever have considered comparing.

from “Changing the Shape of Things to Come: A Perspective on the Coded Chimera Collaboration” Norman MacLeod

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