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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
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Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

The Computational, the Ornamental and the Divine: ecologies of nature and culture

With Professor Simeon Nelson (University of Hertfordshire)

Series:  Seminars on Religion and Society

Date: Thursday 20 November 2008, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Seligman Library (Room A607), Old Building, London School of Economics (LSE)

Chair: Dr Paul-François Tremlett (Taiwan Research Programme)


For this talk I will be focussing on my use of Taoist, Islamic and Baroque ornamental aesthetics. I will discuss examples of my work that encode the idea of the Tao, 'a seamless web of unbroken movement and change, symbolised by the liquescent swirlings of a flotation pattern' (David Wade, Crystal and Dragon) and examples that encode more Western Aristotlean notions of change and progression and that are more hierarchically structured.

This will be discussed in the context of other aspects of my practice which deal with concepts from science, philosophy and theology. These concepts are used as a basis for recombining patterns and fragments from the natural and cultural realms. Patterns could be derived from the connective tissue of the city, for example a motor-way, a railway network or a street pattern. Equally they could be derived the branching of a tree, the migratory route of birds, a river drainage basin or a vascular network. I see the city as much an organism as an animal or plant and as much an ecosystem as a rainforest (I use the word 'ecosystem' in the sense explored in Felix Guattari's essay, "The Three Ecologies", in which he expands the notion to include the mental and the social as well as the environmental)

I use representations of these patterns as much as the patterns themselves from the sciences and ethnographic/architectural ornament. I elide computational and ornamental representations of organic form. For example, a tree-form generated on a computer by an L-system algorithm shares structural , topological qualities with tree-forms found in different ornamental aesthetics from around the world. The technique of isolating of an element; removing it from its context allows the combining of fragments from different formal, aesthetic and real systems and is part of an ongoing practice of what I call 'relational or recombinant taxonomy. This search for underlying similarities not immediately apparent is motivated by an intuition that under the diversity and complexity of things there are sets of relationships that if followed far enough ultimately connect to the same source.

About the speaker

Professor Simeon Nelson is Professor of Sculpture at the University of Hertfordshire and is an award winning sculptor, installation and interdisciplinary artist who works within the museum and in the public domain. His gallery based work and interventions into urban sites are concerned with revealing and mapping the hidden systems and significations of the site. Simeon Nelsons sculptural language transposes between the graphical and the spatial using the tropes of cartography, ethnographic aesthetics and scientific illustration. The resulting work is as much a map or model of itself as of its referent.

He obtained a BA in Fine Art from Sydney College of the Arts in 1987. After establishing himself as an artist in Australia and Asia in the 1990s, he moved to London in 2001 and is currently working on projects in Asia, Australia, Europe and the UK. He was a Finalist in the National Gallery of Australia's National Sculpture Prize in 2005 and a Finalist in the 2003 Jerwood Sculpture Prize. Passages, a monograph on his work was published by The University of New South Wales Press, Sydney in 2000. He has received numerous awards including seven arts council grants in Australia and the UK, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship in 2000 and a Leverhulme Trust grant in 2007. In 1997 he was the Australian representative to the IX Triennial India, New Delhi.

Recent projects include Cryptosphere, artist residency and solo exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society, London, Desiring Machine, a monumental sculpture on the outskirts of Melbourne; Cactal, a sculptural intervention into the facade of the University of Teesside, UK; Proximities, in collaboration with sound artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and Flume, a large-scale site-embedded commission for Ashford, Kent, UK. His work is held in public and private collections including the Art/Omi Foundation, New York, the Jerwood Foundation, London, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the Cass Sculpture Foundation, UK, and Goldman Sachs.

Nelson Recombinant Drawing 1_472x153

Recombinant Drawing 1 (100cm x 50 cm) (c) Simeon Nelson, used with permission