Visualizing the Invisible with Textiles, Modern Science, and Ancient Worldviews
Charting and mapping are ancient human impulses—methods used by cultures throughout our world’s history to understand their place in the cosmos, and to exert authority over their local environment. Cartographers have mapped our planet’s continents and oceans, while researchers and ritual practitioners have tracked celestial bodies to uncover the deep-seeded structural patterns that organize the universe. Each approach also reveals the diverse scientific, cosmological, and cultural worldviews of the explorers. By charting the dark matter that fills our vast Universe, modern science is actively working to visualize the invisible within our cosmic landscape. In the collaboration between the artist, Isaac Facio, and astrophysicist, Benedikt Diemer, this data takes the form of a complex textile web, rendering the unseen, seen, and the immaterial, material.
Manifesting the unseen patterns, forces, and substance of the cosmos through art, architecture, and performance has precedence in the cosmologies of the ancient world, particularly notable throughout the pre-Columbian Americas and their modern descendants. By offering a cross-cultural perspective from the Maya perspective, art historian Elizabeth Pope shows the profound philosophical and spiritual impact that this worldview has to explain the deeper realities to the larger community. In response to the possibilities raised through these propositions, artist Heather Mackenzie links weaving with the structure of human society and civilization using elemental Platonic geometry—the foundation of contemporary mathematics and physics; while artist David Martinez-Moreno notes the allegorical understanding of creation through a modern interpretation of nature in a Mesoamerican model of the cosmos. Furthering the conversation, and opening the discussion by addressing both contributors to The Woven Cosmos and the audience, scientist and writer Helen Yuanyuan Cao challenges all to consider: Are we aware of the cosmic design of our universe or have we lost an intimate understanding of the structures and principles that define this universe? What is our relationship with the greater forces that formed our world and continue to impact our lives? What would it be like if the invisible was made visible in our own world; the cosmic and human linked by a powerful web?
By crossing the traditional boundaries of scholarship, research, and design, The Woven Cosmos is just the start of the discussion. All are welcomed into the conversation.
A specialist in computational astrophysics who creates and analyzes large computer simulations, focusing on the gravitational collapse of matter in the universe into the structures we observe or infer today. PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Chicago; MPhys from the University of Manchester, UK; currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC), a subdivision of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) at Harvard University, Cambridge.
Specialist in textile technology with an emphasis on 3-Dimensional woven structures and developing new mechanisms that challenge the formation of solid cloth forms. Currently part of the textile conservation staff at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Textiles. Co-founder of the Textile Technology Research Group, and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an MS in Textile Technology from the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Manchester, UK.
Specialist in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art, architecture, and ritual performance with a focus on the cosmology and cosmogony of the ancient Maya. Collection Manager and Research Assistant in the Department of African Art and Indian Art of the Americas at the Art Institute of Chicago; previous curatorial appointments included the Dallas Museum of Art and Yale University Art Gallery. Received a BA in Cross-Cultural Studies from Colgate University, a MA in Archaeological Studies from Yale University, and a PhD in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin; also conducted fieldwork throughout Central America and in North America.
Artist, writer, and educator recently served as the Fountainhead Fellow in Craft and Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Approaches the textile as a foundational piece of human technology that is sensual and material while simultaneously embedded with complex mathematical information, including platonic mathematics, Euclidean geometry, and standardized measurement. Fulbright Fellow in Paris, France, in 2014–2015 with a solo installation as artist-in-residence at l’École des Arts Décoratifs. Studies traditional textiles in Ecuador, Ghana, India, Zimbabwe, and Europe, and exhibited work widely. BA from Brown University, and MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; co-founder of the Textile Technology Research Group.
Art historian, bonsai professional and biohacker; combines the traditional craft of Japanese Bonsai and molecular biology with interests in the design of living organisms as cultural objects. He developed a project to insert mitochondrial DNA from human subjects into Bonsai trees and is now working on developing Somatic Embryogenesis in woody plants to create artificial biodiversity. Currently a Low Residency MFA candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an Associate of the Textile Technology Research Group.
HELEN YUANYUAN CAO
Working in life sciences sector, had led businesses in molecular biology and cell biology industry benefiting university laboratories, community biohacking labs, and clinical diagnostic laboratories. Mentors several biotechnology accelerator programs for startups and is an expert in innovation; and is also a short story writer with a fascination for experimental theater. Received an MS in Neurobiology from Washington University in St. Louis, Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University, and an MBA from the European Business School. Recently visiting professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico.