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Models of X

Thoughts on Liz Larner's X sculpture from the Nasher Sculpture Center and Arts and Technology

Art © Liz Larner. Photo © Allison V. Smith, courtesy Nasher Sculpture Center.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Nasher Sculpture Center presents Nasher XChange Exhibition Sites, a dynamic public art exhibition consisting of 10 newly-commissioned public sculptures by contemporary artists at 10 sites throughout the city of Dallas. The Edith O'Donnell Arts and Technology building at UT Dallas is proud home to Liz Larner's sculpture, X. The following are thoughts on the piece by UT Dallas faculty and associates.

The Animation of X


In creating an animated representation of Liz Larner's X sculpture, we were at first struck by the simplicity of the shape and form of the symbol. Just two intersecting lines… it doesn't get much simpler than that.

But in that simplicity there are myriad subtleties and complexities that start to appear the harder and more closely you look at it: the balance in the proportions between the length and thickness of the two lines; between the length of the two lines to each other; the angles that terminate the lines creating a top and bottom to the form. And that's just looking at a flat 2-dimensional X! Add a third dimension and the possibility for new hidden complexities and unique perspectives becomes even greater.

In designing an animated 3D version of the sculpture, we focused on that simplicity of form, using white on white and letting soft shadows define the shapes in space through various shades of grey. The animated movement was also designed to be simple and to not change the overall shape of the model too drastically. The simple pulsing motion allows the shape to ebb and flow in the field of view while maintaining the integrity of the symbol.

Finally, the virtual camera move allows the viewer to examine the form from multiple angles, first focusing on the simple top-down view that simulates the 2-dimensional form and then flying around and through the sculpture to examine the various curves and shapes created by viewing from different angles.

Eric Farrar

Eric Farrar
Assistant Professor

Todd Fechter

Todd Fechter
Associate Professor

The Shadow of X

On an icy day, I glanced out the window and noticed how the ice had fallen around Liz Larner’s X sculpture. I realized how this scene could be used as a model to illustrate holographic sound.

To understand this concept, we can make an analogy for the ice as a representation of ultrasonic sound waves that can be used to map objects in space. As such, the X  sculpture would create a pressure displacement or ‘shadow’ in the x-y plane. The inner boundary of the ice would represent a line of anti-noise, and the outer boundary would become a line to which we can map a continuous wave front.  If we extrapolate this 1D projection into three spatial dimensions and the time domain, we can effectively create an inverse system to reproduce the X as a discrete sound object in space and time.

I think that the X sculpture is a perfect expression of what we are trying to accomplish here in ATEC. Not simply a coexistence of artists and engineers, but a confluence of disciplines that inspire and enable each other to push beyond traditional means of expression and creation. Like the center of  the X, these disciplines are not only interdependent but are one and the same.

David Channell

Brian Merlo
Electrical Engineering and Arts and Technology Researcher

X as in X-Rays

Liz Larner’s X sculptures provide us with a new way of viewing a space — the space enclosed by the sculptures, a space we would not be able to see if the sculptures did not exist. In doing so the X sculptures act like X-rays.

Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays in 1895 changed the way people could see things, especially the human body. Unlike normal light, which reflects off the surface of bodies, X-rays illuminate the interior spaces of bodies.

In the novel The Magic Mountain (1924), Thomas Mann, whose wife studied physics with Roentgen, portrayed X-rays as a magical instrument that could allow the visualization of not just the unseen organs of the human body but also emotions and possibly even the soul. In a similar way the X sculptures can act as magical instruments to see the unseen.

David Channell

David F. Channell
Professor of the History of Science and Technology

Thoughts on X

Los Angeles-based artist Liz Larner engages some of the most basic issues of sculpture, such as the relation of line and mass, or of volume and density, yet she does so in unexpected and thoughtful ways, in a range of materials and techniques.

Liz Larner
Liz Larner

For Nasher XChange, Larner has created two sculptures for the new Edith O'Donnell Arts and Technology Building that can be seen as figures enacting the exchange of ideas between these disciplines.

The X-shape of the sculptures, described by the artist as continuing "my investigation into the open form and the use of line to create volume," has developed over several years and could not have been realized without Larner's use of digital modeling technology.

A wood version of the sculpture, on view inside the building, embodies the intersection of traditional sculpture media and new technology.

A stainless steel version, in the outdoor courtyard, evokes the futuristic and technological, providing a fleeting succession of colors and flashes of light and shadow reflecting the activities and experiences of the building's occupants and visitors.

Bonnie Pitman

Jed Morse
Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center

Reflections on the Installation of X

Creativity, collaboration and time were required to install Liz Larner’s two X sculptures as part of the Nasher XChange 10th Anniversary project in the Edith O’Donnell Art and Technology Building. Liz Larner’s creativity is at the heart of these works and responds to the ATEC program merging art and technology

The installations took four days of intense work with the artist, Liz Larner, and Jed Morse of the Nasher supervising every aspect. Displays Fine Arts Services of Dallas provided a crane and a team skilled in preparation. The UT Dallas Facilities Management team, led by Thea Junt, helped to prepare the courtyard for the installation.

The maple model of X is comprised of four components that come together at the top. After many siting on the platform the final selection was made and when the four arms of the sculpture came together there was a snap! Liz said it best: “A happy sound!”

The installation of the X stainless steel sculpture over two misty, cold days required a team working in mud and a crane to move the piece around in the courtyard. Aligning the four footings to precisely hold the sculpture in the grass required six attempts. The next morning the UTD landscaping team completed their work and the X was finally unwrapped. The sculpture's highly reflective and brilliant surfaces were glimmering in the bright November sun the day before the dedication ceremonies.

Bonnie Pitman

Bonnie Pitman
Distinguished Scholar in Residence

Compute This

What is the difference between any two of the following:

  1. Liz Larner’s X sculpture,
  2. a certain type of jellyfish,
  3. and the Eiffel tower?

The answer: very little.

Computer scientists are trained to think mathematically about things that they see, and there is ample use of abstraction when conceptualizing.

However, this abstraction is not like abstract art because the abstraction is conceptual, not perceptual; it is not based on the senses. For example, X has what we would call a tree structure, and in particular it it resembles a quad tree, which is a mental abstraction used for organizing space and objects.

The quad tree structure is shown using four green arrows overlaying an photograph of X. A jellyfish with four tentacles is shown to the left of the sculpture. Similarity is achieved by seeing that the jellyfish and X, when taken to a higher level of conceptual abstraction, are identical. An apartment with four rooms would also map to X.

Paul Fishwick

Paul Fishwick
Distinguished Endowed Chair of Arts and Technology
Professor of Computer Science

Art and Tech Loop in Liz Larner's X Sculpture

Image courtesy James Gurney

When we look at Liz Larner's X sculpture, we see not only the sculpture, but also the surroundings reflected on it. It evokes the reflective sphere used in computer graphics in the technique of environment mapping. An environment map of a scene is captured by holding up a reflective sphere, such as a Christmas tree ornament, and taking a high resolution image of it. This map can then be used to digitally render a new object in that scene. This technique was famously used to create the liquid metal man in Terminator 2.

Computer graphics is the theory and practice of creating visual representations of the real world via computers. This involves creating the geometry (i.e., digitally modeling an object), and the appearance (i.e., rendering the model with the chosen materials, lighting and viewpoint). It's cool that computer graphics technology (digital modeling) enabled the creation this sculpture, and the sculpture, in its turn, evokes a computer graphics technique.

Eakta Jain

Eakta Jain
Assistant Professor, University of Florida

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