To Our Ships At Sea

Winter 2017


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The world is not just objects, but vibrating objects. Waves are formal mathematical concepts, and they are familiar, visceral concepts. Waves can be soothing or disquieting. Basic, uninterrupted waves are rolling, sinusoidal.

But all the interesting features of waves occur at points of collision. Today we examine the properties of colliding waves through a set of artists who have been working in the theme, and through the story of a recent scientific discovery.

This year the Nobel Prize for Physics was given to Kip Thorne, Ronald Drever, Barry Barish, and Rainer Weiss, for their work detecting gravity waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916. Painstaking effort by hundreds upon hundreds of scientists for decades led to the achievement. The waves originated from a cosmic collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago, the power of which was so enormous that it distorted space time in ripples still moving across the universe. A pair of laser antennae called LIGO, (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) gigantic two and a half mile installments located in Louisiana and Washington State, were developed over decades to detect the waves. That finally happened on September 14, 2015.


Snowstorm  Joe McKay 2017 Processing

Joe McKay


The phenomenon of polarization arises when wave motion can occur simultaneously in two orthogonal directions.

(the black holes collide)

We’ve only seen on the calmest of seas. Halcyon the heavens and flatness the shoals of time. Our bearings straight, our eyes to the sextant, riding deaf winds a lonesome vessel.

A billion years afore and now, at distances unfathomable, two maelstroms of the darkest dread danced a whirling dervish. The spread of their skirts sucked up the dust, the clouds, the orbs, the stars. No escape, these swallowing pair of pits, at a swiftness, speeds the half of light, they kissed and made the universe roar. A coupling with more power than all the suns of all the spinning calamities.

Supraliminal  Greg Niemeyer & DJ Spooky 2017 Processing

Greg Niemeyer & DJ Spooky


Waves that encounter each other combine through superposition to create a new wave called an interference pattern.

(scientists' collaboration)

First to see the sea was a patent clerk from Germany. The drop was made, and rings the things of energy. Max then walked a Planck and dove in headlong, splash! Each drop an oscillating crash, and mixing, matching, mathematic smoke from pipes in lab coats, chalk of endless talk and pinched bridges. The glasses come off and Dirac, no sir, I’ll pass to Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, how’s antimatter to Poincaré, or Zwicky and his coma cluster. More precise is Kip Thorne, Drever, Barish, and Weiss. We have Witten as a cell! The beauty of this crashing collective mind!  

Moonlight on Snow Beatrice Bring 2009 Photograph

Moonlight on Snow
Beatrice Bring


When a wave strikes a reflective surface, it changes direction.

(LIGO lasers in the vacuum)

To swampland, Livingston Louisiana. Black-hole eyed owls hoo through the pines and moonbeams, by the secluded tubes, monstrous in the night for miles, hollow but for a beam, a laser light musician’s string, waiting to be plucked by billion year old titan’s long dead dance. Perfect beam gazing into a mirror, combing a single Rapunzel hair, stare unflinching, waiting, waiting…

To Hanford, Washington. Tumble weeded, sage, and the radiation of new bomb USA, the desert by the secluded tubes, monstrous in the night for miles, L-shaped aggregate of science, lonely beam, waiting, waiting…

Christina Van Der Merwe 2009 Painting

Christina Van Der Merwe


Refraction is the phenomenon of a wave changing its speed. Typically, when the wave passes from one medium to another.

(storm of space time…gravity waves, speeding and slowing time, travel across the universe)

The titans swirl and stomp the time, 1 - 2 - 3, 1 - 2 - 3, spin and sing! Raging together on the roiling sea like children in a puddle, and collapsing together in a single laughing splash the ripples ride out to the edges. The steps rushing over Einstein’s sea as here dinosaurs made their fossil beds. Stampeding through beaches, over billions of grains of sand, the neighing ever softer, ever dwindling, ever longer, ever farther, ever closer to our waiting beams and brains.

Seaglass Necklace  Emily Nora O'Neil 2017 Found objects, silk

Seaglass Necklace
Emily Nora O'Neil
Found objects, silk


When a wave strikes a matter, it will be absorbed by the matter. A wave coming into contact with matter of the same natural frequency will impinge upon an atom, then the electrons of that atom will be set into vibrational motion.

(gravity waves colliding with earth)

Single speck, lonely speck, speck hung by invisible string, green and blue ball of all we know, our sad little beacon, fueled by so much strife and struggle, hollering into the blackness with a whimper, tiny life raft on flat night seas, what’s that on the horizon? From across the vast expanse? There comes violent echoes. We shuddered for fear of the monsters in the dark, but we’re about to get to know them.

From the series  Passages  Midge Wattles 2017

From the series Passages
Midge Wattles


A wave exhibits diffraction when it encounters an obstacle that bends the wave, or when it spreads after emerging from an opening.

(the mid-C tone moving the laser antennae, detection of the waves)

Italian postdoctoral, Marco Drago, ear to the rail, cappuccino just before morning eleven, screened the laser string and in two thousand fifteen came the musician’s pluck, bong, a mid-C note. Swayed the ray a proton’s width, perfectly predicted proudly, gravity waves! Tossed back chair and wide-eyed Marco before all knew but knew not what to do. The titan’s dance was heard.

Hygrothermoanthrographs Laura B. Greig 2009 Sculpture

Laura B. Greig

Transmission & Media

Waves normally move in a straight line through a transmission medium.

(word of the wave detection spreads)

A yell sounds out in the village. Hear ye! Hear ye! There be monsters! Titans out there over the heads of eagles! Upon the wires the bells ring, radios buzz.  O I know! Out of a bed of hard dreams, hard earned principals, tedious attempt upon attempt to know to know, I know! We know! Knowledge, you stacked monument, you got us to real heavens. From the dark to the evenings edge we search and will know you, you mystery. You shall not escape us! Have you heard? The titans dance! They hiccuped in our laps like babies. Be not afraid of monsters. We’ll give them names and learn their dances.   

Ball of Octopus  Abe Rolick 2017 Photograph

Ball of Octopus
Abe Rolick


A wave undergoes dispersion when velocity depends on frequency. Dispersion is most easily seen by letting white light pass through a prism.

(joy of discovery & success)

And rewards will come and go, the smiling faces back to furrowed brows, the clapping hands back to the chalkboard. We’ve no time to waste. Ever more and stack upon these new blocks builders. Our tentacles must grasp all. The sea is black and dark, but also full of color if only for a bit of light. We had only seen on the calmest of seas. Now those halcyon heavens are turbulent. Those shoals are bursting surf. Before we had only eyes and now we have ears. Listen!