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Artist thinks 'science' and 'tech' with varied works

Though artist Luke Jerram's most widely known artwork is perhaps "Play Me, I'm Yours" -- a piece that temporarily distributes actual full-size pianos on the streets of major cities for anyone to play -- his body of work displays a particular fascination with science and technology.

One of his sculptures, for example, is derived from the seismogram of the 2011 Japan earthquake. Others are based on data as well: charts of the fluctuations of the New York Stock Exchange and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Still other pieces reference microbiology, optics, and the history of sound recording.

He's even created chandeliers out of that geekiest of objects: the Crookes radiometer (or "light mill") -- the little "lightbulb" with the spinning "windmill" inside that we all coveted in the science museum's gift shop when we kids.

"Scientists and artists start by asking similar questions about the natural world. They just end up with completely different answers," the U.K.-based Jerram told Seed magazine recently. "The nice thing about being an artist is that I can jump around from one area of interest to [another] -- microbiology one week and the gravitational pull of the moon the next. Scientists don't seem to be allowed to do that anymore."

Here's a look at some of Jerram's work, which has been featured in exhibitions associated with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Venice Biennale in Italy.

The image above shows the artist's "Tohoku Japanese Earthquake Sculpture," the aforementioned piece based on the seismogram. Jerram rotated the seismogram using a computer-aided design system and then created the sculpture with a 3D printer. The piece is a foot long and 8 inches wide. He's also created a glass version of the piece that will be displayed at a gallery show in New York next month.

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Here's the seismogram on which "Tohoku Japanese Earthquake Sculpture" is based. It represents 9 minutes of the 2011 Japan quake.

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Cast-glass data sculptures

The upcoming New York show, at the Heller Gallery from June 8 to 30, will also feature Jerram's cast-glass sculptures based on graphs that chart the 2009 economic meltdown. He created two separate pieces, using graphs of the New York Stock Exchange Composite Index from 2004 to 2012 and of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1980 to 2012.

The pieces, he says, "were made to contemplate the meaning of the current global financial crisis and are a method for capturing and crystalizing important periods of time in the economy."

They're shown in the background here, on display in the U.K., with the glass version of the Japan quake piece in the foreground.

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The form

To make the cast-glass pieces, Jerram created a form on a lathe...

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The mold

...and then used it to create molds for casting the glass. This mold is for the piece based on the Dow Jones Average. You can see the form for the New York Stock Exchange piece on the right.

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A sudden change

Here's the New York Stock Exchange data rotated on a computer.

"The human impact of the 2009 crash, as shown in the sudden change in the artwork's diameter is really significant," Jerram notes on his Web site. And the piece does give the data a real visceral punch -- that sudden shift to a small diameter creates a point where the sculpture looks particularly fragile, as if it might snap in two and fall apart.

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From earthquakes and data visualization, we move on to microbiology. Jerram has created a menagerie of glass pieces that depict viruses and the like. Here we see the microorganism that causes malaria.

"Made to contemplate the global impact of each disease, the artworks were created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially colored imagery we receive through the media," Jerram -- who is color-blind -- says on his site. "In fact, viruses have no color, as they are smaller than the wavelength of light. By extracting the color from the imagery and creating jewel-like beautiful sculptures in glass, a complex tension has arisen between the artworks' beauty and what they represent."

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T4 bacteriophage

This delicate, almost playful-looking thing is, in fact, one of the "good guys." It's a representation of the T4 bacteriophage, which, Jerram says, "infects E. coli bacteria and has been used for over 60 years in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as an alternative to antibiotics. More recently, the virus has been seen to have potential as a therapy against multi drug resistant strains of many bacteria."

This, and more such pieces -- depicting the bugs behind HIV, swine flu, smallpox, and other diseases -- were shown at Glasstress, a collateral event of the Venice Biennale in Italy.

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Classy radiometers

When we were kids, we were fascinated by Crookes radiometers, those supposedly light-powered spinny little things that were often on display in the science museum gift shop (and sometimes called "light mills"). Jerram must have been too, for he's made a chandelier out of them.

"Beautiful, flickering shadows are formed as sunlight passes through the artwork," Jerram says on his site. "Observed from a distance, the sculpture is a form of flickering, shimmering delicate moving glass. A gentle 'clinking' sound can also be heard as they turn."

At least one such piece will be shown in New York next month, Jerram says. The image above shows a digital mock-up of a 20-foot-tall chandelier (along with a detail of an existing, smaller, piece).

The radiometers can be powered at night with artificial light.

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A talking ring

When Jerram proposed to his girlfriend, it wasn't just any old proposal. He worked with a jeweller and a vinyl record manufacturer to create this ring. The etched lines mean it can be placed on the special, miniature record player and continually play the proposal:

"Shelina, I'll love you forever. Marry Me!... Shelina, I'll love you forever. Marry Me!..."

The silver ring was etched using a vibrating diamond stylus, and Jerram was of course inspired by Thomas Edison.

But did Shelina accept? Click ahead...

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A ring? Or...

C'mon. You knew she did. How could one not? So Jerram switched from sound to optics and created this wedding ring. When held up to a light source...

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...a projector? projects images.

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