Sun, Earth, and Fire: Expressing Creativity With Science

April 4, 2024

A crowd gathers in our Forces That Shape the Bay outdoor exhibit, buzzing with anticipation. They’re admiring a giant 8-foot sculpture made of metal, shaped like a human heart, complete with anatomically correct chambers and blood vessels. A woman wearing a pink hard hat lights a fire at the end of a long pole and holds it to the aorta atop the sculpture. The vaporized propane flowing into the sculpture catches, and flames spew from the blood vessel, dazzling visitors waiting to interact with it.  This sculpture is Pulse, one of several art-themed displays and activities happening this week during Spring Break at The Lawrence!

The Flaming Lotus Girls, a women-led art collective based in San Francisco, built Pulse. They are known for large-scale interactive art installations made of metal incorporating flame effects. Their vision is to empower people to develop fabrication and leadership skills and to become experienced artists by fostering a supportive, hands-on educational environment.

“Art and science have a lot of overlap,” said Margaret Long of the Flaming Lotus Girls. “They both start with being curious, asking questions, trying new things, and being willing to try new things. Science is a well of inspiration that never runs dry. It’s very easy to be excited by how the world works and to see opportunities to bring that excitement to others with big sculptures.”

Pulse requires two key components: a fuel source and a signal. The flames are powered by propane, which is vaporized before entering the sculpture’s tubes and vessels. Two interactive elements send signals to the sculpture’s “flame poofers,” telling them to shoot flames. An orb with three buttons on it controls the aorta at the top of the heart. A second orb contains a heart rate sensor that signals the “poofers” inside the heart to “beat” in time with the user’s own heartbeat.

Native youth mix earth by hand to the EARTH.SPEAKS dome

Across from the heart sculpture, on the other side of the Forces exhibit, another art project is kicking off. A group of young people from Bioneers’ Native Youth Leadership Program works together to mix earth and fill jute sandbags to form the base of what will be a new permanent installation. Osage earth and body artist brooke smiley leads the build, a dome sustainably constructed with earth, water, jute, and barbed wire. This community project is called EARTH.SPEAKS.

EARTH.SPEAKS is a land-based public art project aimed at healing through community creation of earthen structures. brooke guides communities through the process of building earth markers, a sustainable indigenous building practice that goes back thousands of years. Through the project, brooke aims to uplift indigenous identities and increase awareness of native history, present-day visibility, and messages of the land. 

“We worked all last week with native youth from Alaska, to Louisiana, to Hawai’i,” said brooke. “This week, we’re opening it up to the public, giving them a chance to make something together that so many hands will have built. This is an experience where we can build something that will be here for generations to come as a permanent structure at The Lawrence.”

brooke is a part of Sozo, an Oakland-based non-profit arts agency and incubator led by BIPOC women. Sozo artists work at the intersection of art, technology, and social impact. Although this is their first time partnering with a science museum for EARTH.SPEAKS, Sozo and The Lawrence previously collaborated on a project with the Grammy-winning hip hop collective Alphabet Rockers.

A young visitor preparing a Sunprint

Also, out in the Forces exhibit, a young visitor positions a detailed stencil of the moon onto a blue piece of paper. Satisfied with her composition, she brings her creation into the sun and watches, mesmerized, as the paper changes from dark to pale blue. She pulls off the stencil, revealing the dark blue outline of the moon left behind on the photosensitive paper. She just made a Sunprint, another artistic activity available to visitors of The Lawrence throughout Spring Break.

Pulse, EARTH.SPEAKS and other art-making activities are only a fraction of all the science fun during Spring Break at The Lawrence. Join us now through Sunday, April 7, to witness a flaming heart, help construct an earthen dome, make Sunprints, and express your creativity through art and science. We hope to see you there!

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