The initial link between the cosmic web of dark matter and textiles was based on the thread-like appearance of the filaments in images like the one to the right (see also scientific background). Rather than creating the most accurate representation of the filamentary structure, we want to make the connection between dark matter structures and textiles, specifically three-dimensional textiles, because mapping the cosmic web into two dimensions would reduce it to a visualization akin to the 2D images shown on this website.
However, the output of our simulations is essentially a cubic grid of dark matter density. Our goal is to extract fundamental, three-dimensional shapes from this data that can be translated into a weavable pattern. Given the results of our 3D weaving experiments, we restrict these shapes to halos (woven spheres) and straight-line filaments (threads between the halos). This page describes the process of extracting these shapes from a simulation, mapping them onto a two-dimensional weaving pattern, and assembling the fabric into a sculpture.
Simplifying the simulation data
We begin by choosing a specific section of the simulation: a cube around a massive halo, 230 million light years on a side. This volume is shown in projection above, and is one of the two volumes we translated into a 3D print. The filaments of the cosmic web holds scientific interest besides our artistic investigation, and computer software to extract them from a density field already exists; we used a code called Disperse for this purpose.
The three images above show the extracted filaments (black lines) and the halos that lie along those filaments (red spheres). In the left image, we recognize the two largest halos from the image at the top. However, the filamentary structure shown on the left is still too complicated for our purposes. For simplicity, we restrict ourselves to only the most prominent filaments and halos (center). Furthermore, we convert the filamentary structure into a set of anchor points (right image), namely halos (red), end points (blue), branching points (green), and intermediate anchors (pink). The filaments between those points are now represented by straight lines.
Even though the woven halos and filaments will open into three-dimensional structures, they are woven on an intrinsically two-dimensional weaving loom. Thus, we project the filamentary structure above into the 2D pattern represented by the tree on the right. The diagram shows halos (in four different sizes, red), intermediate points (purple), and end points (blue). The numbers inside the white circles give the lengths of filament (in cm) needed between the anchors in order to unfold the weaving into the correct 3D structure.
At this point, we finally merge simulation data and weaving. We map the tree onto a rectangular, weavable structure of halos (red, orange, and yellow) and filaments (empty areas). The halo rectangles represent complicated weave patterns that create sphere-like shapes when pulled open. This layout has an area of 6 square meters and was re-oriented to accommodate the limits of the weaving loom.
The weaving was produced on the industrial weaving machines of the TextielLab in Tilburg, Netherlands.
Below are photos of the first incarnation of our textile (some taken by David Martinez-Moreno). The sculpture was part of an exhibition called “The Woven Cosmos” in Savannah, GA (see the exhibitions page for more details). We very much see this sculpture as a work in progress, with many aspects to be improved.
The photo below was taken in the dark using a flash, and highlights the effect of the reflective threads that were woven into the textile.