Lab Doodle

A friend who I went to art college with found some of my old artwork recently, which I didn’t even know she had. It’s no work of art, just a photocopy of some doodles that I did during quiet periods when I was working in the laboratory at Mansfield Brewery. They’re drawn in the back pages of the lab notebook that was used to record the CO2 content of samples of beer, and they probably date from around 1999 to 2001 when the brewery closed. It’s funny to see these old images again. There are fractals, references to music, literature, philosophy and religion, and lots of biological things: insects, a cross-section of a duck, yeast cells, snake skull, locust, crab, mice, thylacine, dandelion seeds. There’s also an ‘alphabetti spaghetti’ game – every letter is hidden somewhere amongst the doodles.

lab_notebook_crop2We can look at this in terms of visual complexity. This image has a roughly uniform distribution of ink to page. It is quite detailed, with a variety of marks and shapes, but with little depth. The small images occupy this space more or less evenly but they bear little meaningful relation to each other, except for some alignment of images on a slight diagonal on the left-hand page. Unlike a well-formed sentence where a set of words is arranged into meaningful information, these small pictorial units are not grouped into higher organisational units, neither as aesthetic information nor as semantic information.

In terms of complex systems theory, the properties of this image are related to chaotic systems and the things that chaotic systems produce. The pictorial arrangement of the doodles is like the distribution of pebbles on a beach, which is a result of a chaotic system in the form of the non-linear fluid dynamics of the ocean. Different sizes, shades and shapes are distributed without any order – a non-repeating pattern. These kind of patterns can provide restful background material that isn’t too distracting or too dull, but which ultimately fails to retain aesthetic interest. The image has little artistic value because of this lack of meaningful organisation (not to mention lack of skill), but it is quite interesting as a sedimentation of passing thoughts and deeper subconscious currents.

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