Cal prof uses computer to enhance sculptures

Daily Planet wire report
Monday February 19, 2001

A computer science professor at Cal has created a computer program that takes the geometric wood sculptures of Missouri artist Brent Collins a step further. 

Carlos Sequin says he was inspired to develop the program, which uses the mathematics found in the curves of soap bubbles, after discovering Collins' sculptures, composed of intertwined arches and saddles, in the art journal Leonardo in 1992. 

Although Collins did not create his sculptures using mathematics, Sequin thought the figures could have been developed using the principles of the saddle-shaped surfaces that soap films form inside of wire hoops. 

Mathematicians study these shapes because the soap film naturally stretches itself to the smallest area it could occupy given the constraint of its borders. 

Sequin contacted Collins and told him that using this ``minimal surface'' principle, a computer program could be developed to envision more complex versions of the sculptor's art in less time than it took Collins to build the wire mesh and beeswax prototypes that guided his original sculptures. 

Sequin and his students created a computer software program that allows the user to experiment with the shapes. The program can then create blueprints of the shapes, and Collins can use those blueprints to from a new sculpture. 

The program has allowed Collins to expand his art into shapes that he could not have created using his traditional method. Sequin uses the program in his classes, and he has developed a machine that can be used to create small models in a couple of days. 

Collins and Sequin will appear at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco later today. Collins will talk about his art, while Sequin will demonstrate how the computer program works.