The Chaos and Opportunity of Granulation’s Tiny Spheres
With my live online Granulation Ring class coming up soon, I’ve been reminiscing about why I first got excited about the technique. From the moment I learned of it, I could see wild possibilities within those infinite spheres. Yes, of course the Egyptian, Etruscan, and Greek granulation work I saw was a huge motivator, but what really appealed to me was that with granulation I could create the illusion that the static, fully fused metal could look like it was in motion, that if you tilted the piece, the granules might just roll around like beads of water or those little silver balls trapped in a child’s toy maze puzzle.
Of course the granules don’t roll around because the nearly alchemical magic of fusing them to the base sheet of metal means they don’t move at all; they merely look as if they could. That’s the illusion I find so intriguing.
Granulation is probably the oldest of all the techniques I do, but paradoxically, it’s the one I prefer to make look the most contemporary. In the early 2000s I read a number of books on physics and chaos theory that propelled my concept further. Making tiny spheres adhere in triangle or diamond patterns is easy because the laws of surface tension make the granules cling together in those patterns. I have lots of tricks and processes for circumventing that surface tension and instead making the granules appear random. My process makes it just as easy, technically speaking. Because our eyes and brains excel at spotting patterns, it’s more challenging and more fun for me, from a design perspective, to make things appear random…
…Or to appear like physics experiments.
The Uncertainty Principle
When I came across Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal as an adult (that is to say outside of a boring, high school physics textbook…insert nightmare flashback here), I was a work-at-home, homeschooling, single parent, juggling more anxiety producing problems than I care to remember. In a lay-person’s nutshell, the Uncertainty Principle says that you can know with a fair amount of accuracy either the location of a particle or the velocity at which it travels, but you can’t know both bits of information with equal certainty. You can know where it is in the present or where and how fast it’s going in the future but not exactly both; predicting where a particle might go requires knowing where it was.
If that makes your brain hurt, that’s sort of my point.
The theory struck me as both metaphorically perfect and hilariously ironic at a time in my life when I couldn’t slow down enough for me to know which end was up. My Uncertainty Principle has a central disk that spins, leaving the Koroit opal to randomly point at one of the symbols chased around the pendant’s perimeter. The symbols are a mix of ancient, alchemical, hobo (yes, really), and a few of my own design. On the inside back of the spinner are tiny mirrors. When spun and viewed from the back, fragments of one’s own reflection flash through the pierced areas of the wire granulation.
The piece was purchased by a couple to celebrate their marriage when it became federally recognized. I love that they showed their love for each other by embracing uncertainty!
I created this piece 20 years ago when I was reading Turbulent Mirror, a book on chaos theory by John Briggs and F. David Peat. One day, when out shopping with the friend who had recommended the book, I saw a calligraphic Chinese symbol for chaos, which is also the symbol for opportunity because opportunity is seen as coming out of chaos. How true!
A strange thing happens when things “fall apart.” According to the Poincaré Recurrence Theorem, there is a time when molecules (or whatever) will, in their seemingly random chaos, line up in such a way as to appear almost back together again in their original pattern. Think weather patterns, for example.
Computers can simulate this process by randomly scrambling the pixels in an image. The crazy thing about the computer simulations is, though less likely in the physical world, at some point, the pixels will randomly arrange themselves to very closely resemble the original image.
My take on this wild phenomenon is in the granulation on the front of my amulet Chaos. Captured, fused, and frozen in the moment of the granules’ theoretically rolling around, they’re meant to appear to come back together into the Chinese symbol for chaos/opportunity. As with leftover pixels in a simulated Poincare Reoccurrence, some of the granules are still ‘floating’ around. The question is are the granules on the amulet falling away from having been part of the symbol or coming together to form it? Trippy.
Our Earth-bound perspective via Hubble Telescope images reveals not similarly sized stars spaced in a darkened sky, but a mass of all sizes and colors of stars mashed together. For me, the coolest of the many cool images from Hubble is the Orion Nebula, which shows a star “nursery” of stars at different stages. This series of rings is sparked by my imaginings of what it might look like if you could wear a galaxy or a nebula around your finger.
Rivers of Gold
The flow of water has always figured heavily in the curves of my designs. I grew up a few minutes from the Tennessee River and have had a lifelong obsession with the Nile River and its lush valley. Water is both life giver and life destroyer. Untamed, flowing water has a mind and an agenda of its own. I remember terrifying floods during my childhood, the dams be damned as they could hold back little. What entrances me most about water is that we can stand on a river’s bank and experience timelessness while its water rushes quickly past us never to return. Our glimpse of timelessness is an illusion.
Colliding and coalescing
I’ve always equated the creative process with the cosmos’ tendency to create order out of chaos. There’s a Big Bang or a supernova, and as soon as things blow apart, they begin colliding and coalescing, energy into form.
No one needs to be as nerdy as me to do granulation! I love that it can convey so much more than the historically traditional triangle and diamond patterns though sometimes nothing is more elegant than those triangles and pyramids built from tiny spheres.
When the world feels upside down, it can feel a little nuts and even self-indulgent to think about making art, but if we creators have learned anything in the last two years, it’s that making art during these times is vital. For artists, not being creative is crazy making, and when the world is upside down, what it doesn’t need is more crazy people.