UCLA Art|Sci Center 2021
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series of artist talks
LEFT: D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson's Generative Influences in Art, Design, and Architecture: From Forces to Forms, Ellen K. Levy and Charissa N. Terranova, Anthology Co-editors, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. RIGHT: D’Arcy Thompson and images from his Transformations from On Growth and Form (1917).

Curated by Ellen K. Levy

From Forces to Forms

February 1 - April 27, 2022  

Pratt Manhattan Gallery

From Forces to Forms is curated by Ellen K. Levy and marks the inaugural exhibition of Pratt Institute’s Manhattan Gallery, which is directed by Nick Battis.  Levy, a multimedia artist, scholar, and past president of the College Art Association, gives center stage to little-explored dimensions of form generation, including the roles of agency, contingency, and physico-chemical forces. The artists collaborate with matter, creating art that intimates the interconnectedness of the world and its dependencies. From Forces to Forms explores the nature of form by engaging with the potent forces and processes of nature. By investigating how physical laws shape living and nonliving forms alike — ideas first proposed by D’Arcy Thompson in his classic tome On Growth and Form (1917) — the exhibition explores universal principles of organismic development while delving into the flux and perturbations that characterize life today.  

Reflecting Pratt Institute’s commitment to interdisciplinarity, From Forces to Forms features works by 19 artists and designers whose practices draw from both art and science and articulate a shared commitment to creating a more sustainable world. These works consider the implications of form generation through a variety of media (from analog to digital), at different scales (from subatomic to macroscopic), and in varied contexts (from prebiotic to ecosystems). 

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Questions raised by the curator Ellen Levy — “How do artists tap powerful yet unseen forces through emergence? What patterns of nature might new technologies help us to visualize? How might artists intersect the virtual and real worlds in ways that illuminate both? Can art help us affect needed environmental change through identifying patterns of behavior? How can art address the quantum world?”


left: Christy Rupp, Moby Debris (2019) center: William Lamson, Untitled (After Badwater) (2021); right: Tauba Auerbach, Heat Current I-IV (2020); far right: Adam Brown and Robert Root-Bernstein, ReBioGeneSys 2.0 (2021). Photo by Jason Mandella Photography

4/2: Laws of Nature


The first section of Pratt’s exhibition, From Forces to Forms, is comprised of works by artists who explore basic forces of nature and the behavior of entities that are often placed, unattended, in the background. The artists foreground the activation of life, often constructing their own methods. Like Thompson, they look at the intersection of physics and chemistry, probing the boundaries between the animate and inanimate, and they consider the available sources of energy to initiate this transition. 


Adam Brown and Robert Root-Bernstein explore the prebiotic world in their collaborative artwork, ReBioGeneSys (2021), based on Miller’s and Urey’s pivotal 1953 origin of life experiment. 

Paul Thomas invents ways he might visualize probabilities of position and speed that characterize uncertainty in the quantum world. 

Todd Siler visualizes forces of energy in his drawing, Mapping Magnetic Domains of the Fractal Reactor (2006), applying principles of fractal geometry to plasma physics. 

Tauba Auerbach often engages principles of pattern formation. The works from Heat Current (2020) serve as mysterious tracers of movements created by temperature differences.

Meredith Tromble interprets the force of photosynthesis, creating a video that combines dance and drawing in an imaginative encounter with this force.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN ZOOM: April 2nd, 2022 at 12pm PDT 3pm EDT
Paul Thomas, Quantum Chaos Series (2020).
left: Haresh Lalvani, GR FLORA 64 60 102, and GR FLORA 24 100 2 (2012); right: Janet Echelman, Study for She Changes (2005). Photo by Jason Mandella Photography

4/9: Morphogenesis and Self-Organization


The artworks in the second section have strong affinities with processes analyzed in Thompson’s On Growth and Form. Several artists in this group appropriate the generative potential of nature. They set the conditions for shaping and self-organization to occur, exploiting a program of behavior built into the materials that creates flows, rhythms, and movements. Other artists in this section approach morphogenesis metaphorically. The foundation of complexity science is revealed in both groups: simple manipulations can cause complex results.


William Lamson brings geologic forces into the gallery, allowing them to develop over the duration of the show.

Haresh Lalvani collaborates with metal fabricator Milgo/Bufkin. He activates physical emergence within matter and then applies forces to create elegant seamless topological surfaces.

Janet Echelman creates deformed grids on an architectural scale that create topological transformations suggestive of organismic development.

Gemma Anderson has devised a playful way to relate species that would otherwise be considered unconnected, creating aesthetically arresting work that is both logical yet surreal. 

Oliver Laric features the unpredictable morphing of a black line drawn on a white ground that evokes processes of cell mitosis in his animation, Betweenness (2005).

Ricci Albenda explores the emergence of organic forms in topological investigations that then materialize optical and perspectival phenomena. 


CLICK HERE TO JOIN ZOOM: April 9th, 2022 at 12pm PDT 3pm EDT
Oliver Laric, still from Betweenness (2018).
far left; Ursula Endlicher Input Field reversal (2021); center rear wall, Victoria Vesna, Noise Aquarium (2017-2021); right wall; María Elena González, Bark Framed #1, #2 (2015); near right; Oliver Laric Hundemensch (2018). Photo by Jason Mandella Photography

4/16: Repairing Nature 

In this third section, several artists lay bare the dysfunction of our relationship with nature on a system-level scale. Several of the artists devise interactive projects that might reshape human behavior regarding the ecosystem. Many of the artists address borders – between the natural and unnatural, the analog and digital, and between the living and non-living. Thompson, an avid environmentalist, often emphasized the shared atomic, cellular, and molecular structures between entities, including the animate and inanimate. The artists in From Forces to Forms emphasize the commonalities, empathy, and sentience felt among a variety of species. In this way, they promote our awareness of environmental policies on communities of organisms.


Marta de Menezes and María Antonia González Valerio ask what is natural. They create taxonomic charts involved identifying corn mutations with bioinformatic tools that compared the genome of corn and the wild counterpart from which it was developed. 

Ursula Endlicher unexpectedly rethinks reciprocity between the real and virtual, creating “hybrid creatures between code, data, and plant characteristics.” She explores borders between analog and digital realms. 

Christy Rupp analyzes intertwined systems of food, politics, and ecology. She draws a critical link between late capitalism and the food web. 

Maria Elena González documents the characteristic markings on birch bark and points to the putative communicative agency of trees. 

Lillian Ball creates a model of cooperative interaction based on the ancient game of Zen Go, where participants act out the conflict between social incentives to cooperate and private incentives to defect. 

Victoria Vesna aims to heighten our awareness of human-caused environmental dysfunction and motivate us to eliminate the disruption of our ecosystem in her interactive project, Noise Aquarium (2016).

Marta de Menezes and María Antonia González Valerio; Origin of Species-Post Evolution-Maiz (2018).
CLICK HERE TO JOIN ZOOM: April 16th, 2022 at 12pm PDT 3pm EDT
The exhibition was was made possible in part by Pratt Institute’s STEAMplant Initiative
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