Art and science merge at Dali Museum

The art-science exhibit PLASM was projected onto St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum on Thursday,
displaying an evolving simulation supported by USF’s Institute for Research and Arts.

In a blend of the art world and the science community, an exhibit at the St. Petersburg Dali Museum showcased a medley of the two.

The audience for Thursday’s PLASM exhibit at the museum watched from the grass lawn as projected shapes ebbed and flowed on the building side. 

David Fries, systems architect for the Integrative Creative Technologies Group at the USF Institute for Research and Arts, said projected images resembled the biological appearance one might see on a microscope slide, designed to simulate biological reactions when exposed to light, sound and chemical reactions. 

The art-science collaboration is derived not only from the museum’s namesake, Salvador Dali, but from what Fries said is a relationship between two fields that benefit from one another. 

“Both artist and scientist observe the world,” he said. “Artists typically work to try to represent the world and scientists build instruments to observe it. Having different ways of viewing  the world may help with making sense of our observations with the world.”

The art-science dynamic allows for a bridge to be made between two fields, both looking to examine the world, he said. USF students could study the simulation for their research as Fries is experimenting with mixing art and science and bringing that into his research here at USF.

Because PLASM, created by Fries in collaboration with international artist TeZ, runs on unique mathematical algorithms, viewers will never see replicated images, making each viewing unique. 

“New technology is creating ways to help create an experience,” Fries said. “… There is some enlightenment that maybe through the artists, in their intuitive perspective, may help with making sense of the myriad of data that we get in the science observational space.”

As one image slipped into the next, viewers repeatedly experienced something for the first and only time. 

“These are almost like evolutionary artworks,” Fries said. “Perpetual artworks that have a starting point in time and space that then change.”

For Fries, the fascination with PLASM comes in part from the fleeting quality of the work.

“It evolves and only at that moment in time is each configuration; you only get to experience it once, similar to our lives,” Fries said. 

For Kathy White, deputy director at the Dali Museum, PLASM was a good fit for the museum and the Dali approach.

“Our mission is largely educational, exposing people to new ways of looking at things, especially (Salvador) Dali, who was really big on perception and visual transformation,” White said.

Fries also said the Dali philosophy fit with PLASM.

“Salvador Dali used science to inspire his art, he primarily focused on using relativity, quantum physics or optics,” Fries said. “I saw the opportunity to bring this form generation using math with the Dali art perspective together.”

As for the future of PLASM, Fries and TeZ wish to continue showing audiences their work, as they have already done in the Netherlands and Montreal. 

Fries also said he would likely continue exploring the possibilities of algorithms with students at USF. Specifically, Fries would perhaps explore how these algorithms work with 3D printing.

“It would be almost like the development would happen on each layer and be dropped onto the next layer,” Fries said. “So like building a building, but each of the floors have their own unique architecture.”

White said she thinks bringing back PLASM next year is possible.

“In the future, it would be fun to have in a formal event,” White said. “I think it would be great to do again.”