The following article was written by Chilean physicists Nahum Carlos Martinoya and Joël commenting experience relevant to the construction and Chromatic Abstractoscopio display. It was published in the second edition of the journal Leonardo 1968:
In December 1960 was held in Santiago de Chile, at the National Museum of Fine Arts, an art exhibition called outdoor Arts Fair. This exhibition is a major event in Santiago and as scientists we are interested in art, decided it would be a good opportunity to show the public a form of expression that could be a link between science and art, between the phenomena natural aesthetics and emotions.
Thought the colors obtained by interference of polarized light in birefringent crystals would be a good example. One of us (Martinoya) has done research in this field and they have shown repeatedly that effect our students in physics and crystallography. Their reactions made us think that the public could also interest you. In discussing the program and the technical details of the presentation, one of us discovered a number of beautiful effects: to replace the crystals colorless pieces of cellophane (which is also birefringent) either cut, folded, or creased in various shapes, sizes and textures, and watching this show cellophane between polaroids, you see the pattern formed by the cellophane on a rich range of colors. These amazing colors show variations when turned one of the polaroids or cellophane when the sample is rotated or tilted. Moreover, the colors also vary if added between the polaroids through the entire field of view, a sheet of cellophane (or more overlapping sheets).
In this way you can produce a variety of abstract compositions, and any person having two polaroid sheets, cellophane and imagination can make them and enjoy watching them. This seems very attractive, and we recommend this art, sport or toy (the name depends on the attitude to be considered) to people who have a creative imagination or who wish to develop.
Then replace visual observation by the projection on a screen, so that many people could see the pictures at the same time. We did this by simply placing cellophane motives in cardboard or plastic frames of which are used to project 35mm slides. All that is needed is two polaroids, a slide projector and screen.
The presentation was beginning to take shape. We also prepare a slide show explaining the scientific basis of the «cadres» and got frames and cellophane to allow the public to develop their own compositions.
However, we decided that besides all this, it would be interesting to build an automatic device to continuously vary the composition and color of the picture. In this way the public would better appreciate the potential of this medium. We achieve this by using three colorless glass discs of different diameters, which slowly moved through an electric motor. Cellophane samples were glued to the glass near the periphery of each disc. The position of the three parallel shaft was such as to allow an overlap of three disks over an area of about 5 centimeters in diameter. This area was covered by a 35mm slide frame. Light 500w projector was polarized and sent through these discs, and the image of the composite design was thus focused on a screen through the projector lens (the lens had to be unscrewed and there to do besides other small mechanical changes in the projector). The second polaroid, placed after the projector lens, rotated continuously driven by the same engine that drives moving. Relative angular speeds were adjusted so that in many hours of operation any of the compositions appeared only once. Even if we knew what we could get from the machine, we were blown away by the beauty and richness of the designs that were happening on the screen, in constant motion.
We call this device «Abstractoscopio Chromatic» and thinking of the general public, more fond of spectacular names, we add «the robot of abstract painting.» We were really curious to see the reaction of the public and painters, we look forward to the opening of the exhibition.
The audience showed great interest, more than what we expected, both the aesthetic and the scientific. They read and listened attentively scientific explanations, asked questions and were excited at the crystal growth experiments we did and you could see projected on the screen. Well understood how attractive it may be the optical study of crystals in polarized light. They also learned to do all this without polaroids, using partially polarized light blue sky and the polarization of light reflected from a glass.
Generously responded to the challenge of the machine, making up a lot of designs in cellophane, the «abstractoscopía» became so popular, and in a very creative way. Children were less inhibited and created the most daring compositions. All were amazed that it was so easy to compose abstract paintings so strange, so unexpected with colorful. Soon some began to develop «styles» own. Some even tried to guess what colors would the designs on screen. Almost all were amazed that they could get so many colors, so beautiful and varied colored unfiltered and that all colors disappear when removing one of the polaroids.
Regarding painters, few thought this was another unwanted intrusion of science in art. Most of them, however, were very excited and saw in the Abstractoscopio a powerful source of inspiration.
For both of us, this was a very satisfying experience, full of aesthetic pleasure and good agreement with our imagination and sense of color. It was yet another revelation of beauty that can be some physical phenomena, both in nature and in the laboratory.
Carlos Martinoya – Nahum Joël
«Science and art are inextricably linked. Aside from aesthetics and imagination play an important role in the development of science, and on the other hand, the understanding of natural phenomena (such as giving based on our abstractoscopio) helps to better enjoy the works of art. «
Nahum Joel. «The Nation», 1 December 1960.
The ‘Chromatic Abstractoscope’: An Application of Polarized Light
Authors: Carlos Martinoya and Nahum Joël
Source: Leonardo, Vol 1, No. 2 (Apr., 1968), p. 171-173
Published by: The MIT Press