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

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  • Equivalent – 1925
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1925, 1925
    x1977-60
  • Equivalent – 1926
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1926, 1926
    x1977-61
  • Equivalent – 1926
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1926, 1926
    x1977-62
  • Equivalent – 1927
    Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864–1946
    Equivalent – 1927, 1927
    x1977-63
  • Untitled (Waves)
    Vija Celmins, American, born 1939 | Printed by Tracy White at Tamarind Institute
    Untitled (Waves), 1970
    x1978-20
  • Milk Drop Coronet
    Harold Eugene Edgerton, American, 1903–1990
    Milk Drop Coronet, 1957, printed 1985
    x1987-20.3
  • Cranberry Juice into Milk
    Harold Eugene Edgerton, American, 1903–1990
    Cranberry Juice into Milk, 1960, printed 1985
    x1987-20.4
  • Sea of Japan, Hokkaido I
    Hiroshi Sugimoto 杉本博司, Japanese, born 1948
    Sea of Japan, Hokkaido I, 1988
    x1988-121
  • Wind, Water and Sand
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.1
  • Wind, Water and Sand
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.2
  • Wind, Water and Sand
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.10
  • Wind, Water and Sand
    Henry Troup, American, born 1924
    Wind, Water and Sand, 1990
    1995-114.20