Soap bubbles are significant symbols for representation in art and as subjects for scientific research. In art, a bubble traditionally symbolises the unexpected loss of something cherished. In science, for their unique ability to minimise their surface area using the least amount of energy and their accompanying display of light interference colours and patterns - phenomena frequently reflected in nature. Artists and scientists look to nature for both inspiration and confirmation.
In addition to the historical context my work also relates to the past. For example, I've developed a solution which produces bubbles that don't burst like normal bubbles. Instead, each bubble slowly deflates to leave behind a faint, membrane skeleton which is permanent. If normal bubbles symbolise an unforeseen, unpredictable future then my skeletal structures must represent the past. The Grace series illustrates the connection by equating the past with memories.
Bubbles, soap films and foams are primary subjects for research in many scientific disciplines. I am constantly amazed and astounded by bubble behaviour and the correlation for research. Research that has led to a diverse and vast range of applications and products in daily use; household cleaning, personal hygiene, glass, plastics, packaging and metal foams, fire extinguishers and oil spill recovery to name a few. And, quite surprisingly soap films can also be used as an aid for understanding global weather systems. There is so much more to bubbles than the obvious.
The scope of scientific investigation is an immense source of inspiration. Bubbles perform and react to a stimulus, in their environment in different ways. Engaging with science gives me the opportunity to learn and see something new. Collaboration gives me the opportunity to work closely with those who have extensive experience and an impressive understanding. This ultimately instigates me to interpret and photograph bubbles in a new way, for example; the collaboration with Prof. Stefan Hutzler, Leader of the Foams and Complex Systems Group, School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin.
I design and construct studio sets and create lighting rigs accordingly. I formulate and prepare many kinds of bubble solutions which can, on occasion, takes months to reach a good working consistency. I consider myself to be an 'ArtScience' practitioner.
A Little History
Every art symbol has evolved over time from it's first recorded use to its current representation by artists. The evolutionary account of each symbol is fascinating, if somewhat surprising to the layman. Here is the story of how soap bubbles began to find their way into the work of artists.
The bubble's metaphoric representation in art is rooted to classical proverb and enshrined in historical context. Traditional symbolism associates bubble(s) to the unpredictable moment when something cherished and irreplaceable is lost forever; a life, love, material possessions and wealth.
Had I possessed the leisure, Fundania, I should write in a more servicable form from what I must set forth as I can, reflecting that I must hasten: for if man is a bubble, as the proverb has it, all the more so is an old man.
Marcus Terentius Varro (116 - 27 B.C.)
This quote comes from Varro's manuscript De Re Rustica. It is the primary, written source to reference to state a relationship between man and bubble. Varro was in his 80s when he wrote De Re Rustica for his wife Fundania, outlining the day to day management of their estate so she would be well equipped to cope after his death.
In 1500, Dutch philosopher Erasmus published Adagiorum Collectanae, a compilation of proverbs extracted from Classical Greek and Latin literature. Each listing was attributed to the original author, translated and given meaning. The first Adagio, (and subsequent Adages) published throughout his life were well received by De Nederlanden society because the ease of comprehension appealed to the scholar and common man alike. Erasmus quoted Varro's reference to the bubble.
On publication, artists were inspired and began to incorporate the now 'symbolic' bubble into their allegorical, Vanitas paintings, (the moral narrative of Vanitas advocated religious piety). Initially, the single bubble represented the relationship between man and his indeterminate moment of death - Homo Bulla, inferring longevity is questionable but death is certain. Over time the correlation between bubble, loss and uncertainty evolved to encompass love, wealth and material possessions. As a result, the bubble(s) became a pertinent symbol of representation for artists.
The forethought to chronical proverbial language was prophetic, if Erasmus had not anticipated the significance of collating ancient, classical proverbs, many metaphors in use today may have been lost forever. And, the bubble as an iconic symbol for artists' narrative around the world today, may have remained inconsequential.