Fluid Motions: A Conversation between Art and Physics

From the swirling forms in Ansel Adams’s Water and Foam to the amorphous shapes in Brett Weston’s Untitled (Clouds) and the delicate ridges in Henry Troup’s Wind, Water and Sand series, the abstract patterns on view speak to the infinite possible arrangements found in nature. The idea for the installation Fluid Motions grew out of a conversation I had with graduate students from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Although our different disciplines initially led us to varying interpretations of these works, we quickly found common ground in our admiration of the symmetries and movements we observed. Carefully captured and presented at a standstill for the viewer, the sand striations, liquids, cloud formations, and snowflakes are ephemeral patterns produced by different forces. Each work reveals one distinct configuration, while subtly calling to mind other possibilities that could have been. As the engineer and photographer Harold Edgerton noted of his Milk Drop Coronet, “there is no such thing as . . . a complete study of a phenomenon.”

Veronica White - Curatorial Assistant for Academic Programs

Waves are ubiquitous in nature, especially in fluids. The laws that govern their interactions are simple to state and yet lead to a variety of intricate and beautiful fluid motions. This complex behavior can range from the formation of striking patterns, such as the crown-shaped shock wave produced by dropping milk into cranberry juice, to the raging whirling of a crashing river. At times, turbulence and patterns can intermingle, with chaotic flows weaving themselves through larger-scale structures. Even small-scale turbulence can cause a cloud’s shape to evolve, while the stirring produced by this evolution feeds the turbulence with energy. 

Joshua Burby, Graduate School Class of 2015, postdoctoral fellow, New York University

Vinicius Njaim Duarte, Ph.D. candidate, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Jonathan Squire, Graduate School Class of 2015, postdoctoral fellow, California Institute of Technology

Download checklist

  • 85445
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.1
  • 85446
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.2
  • 85454
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.10
  • 85464
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.20
  • 51315
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Clouds at sunset with flat horizon, ca. 1929–40
    2006-516
  • 115630
    Wilson A. Bentley, American, 1865–1931
    Untitled (snowflake), ca. 1903–10
    2015-6718
  • 115631
    Wilson A. Bentley, American, 1865–1931
    Untitled (snowflake), ca. 1903–10
    2015-6719