Here students and teachers can explore the STEM concepts and skills found in the artists work. The STEM Concept tool provides a basic definition of a key concept in Science, Math or Engineering and suggests possible ways it has been applied or illustrated in each artist's work. It also includes artist tips and views on STEM for a personal perspective on the STEM + Art connections.

Te Hunga Wai Tapu
What is your name and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I'm Ian Clothier and I live in New Zealand Aotearoa. I'm a hybrid Polynesian, with family lines going back to Norfolk, Pitcairn and Tahiti. My fathers line goes back to the Shetlands and to the Vikings. I'm very much interested in connecting diverse things together. I believe we are all part of one whole, stretching from the smallest living things to individual people to the universe.

Are you a digital native or digital immigrant?

Digital Immigrant

What is the purpose behind your ISEA2012 piece and what inspired you?

The technical name for the type of connection I am talking about is integrated systems. That means everything is tied into everything else at some point. It was interesting to me that Chaos theory involves the idea of integrated systems. I have a really great image made by an engineer of how an engineer understands nonlinearity, and in that image, all things are connected. Now this idea of integrated systems is a part of science. It is also a part of the way that Polynesians and Maori see everything. Rather than seeing things in categories, these peoples see things as part of one whole. So it is interesting then, to try and find ways to join up these ways of seeing things. I call this a cultural bridge. We look for places where there are similarities in views between Western and Maori thinking. This is a different way of thinking than previously. But in today's world, there are many people with mixed backgrounds, so they have heritage from different sources. Consequently it is good to think about ways to connect.

What do you hope an audience takes away from this piece? 

I hope the audience comes away feeling more connected to the world, and having a wider understanding of different people, people who might have different views of the world. It would be great to increase respect for diversity.

How is your medium or technique unique? How have you integrated, adapted or recombined STEM components to create something innovative?

Well, when I talk about connecting things up, one of the things we will do is connect up a data sensor that monitors the voltage change in a tree. We have developed an online system that means we can have a live data reading generating which audio file gets played. I should say though, that as well as the technical connecting up, we also are involved in connecting cultures. I work with a highly respected Maori elder, Te Huirangi Waikerepuru. He is very interested to connect to cultures, so we have a Navajo component of the project. I also work with an engineer, Andrew Hornblow, who is very creative. He makes the data sensors. For the tree voltage, he puts one nail into a tree, and another into the ground and then he measures the difference in voltage between the two. It turns out that when a tree drinks more fluid, or takes in more water, the fluids flow through the tree and that creates a measurable electrical charge.

What would you suggest as a STEM activity or resource for a student that would like to explore the type of work that you do?

One thing students could do, is start by deciding to work with someone from a different culture, and then talk about what is similar or different, seeking connecting points. Another thing they could do is to take simple technologies like LED's and try to work out ways they can be incorporated into art works. It is fairly straightforward to program LED lights to flash in patterns. You basically tell the LED when to turn on and when to turn off. The creative becomes which pattern to use and why. One of the works in the show is called a Pou Hihiri, and it has imagery and LED's. Students could make a work inspired by the Pou, which was made under the direction of Te Urutahi Waikerepuru. It connects traditional Maori knowledge with electronics.

Can you share your methods for brainstorming and how you get your ideas?

There are several kinds of brainstorming. The best sort of brainstorming for me is the pure brainstorm. This occurs when there is no pressure to generate ideas or work. It is best to be relaxed, and just let your thinking flow. Let your intuitions take over, so long as you don’t hurt yourself others. It is important not to be worried about how things are done, when in this flow state. Just let ideas roll. Another kind of brainstorming is when you have to come up with ideas in a short time. It is hard to be relaxed, but the thing is to be open and free and not be negative about ideas, and then see what unusual connections can be made. A third kind of brainstorming is to try and think of unusual combinations of things that already exist. How about a digital wrist watch that can also be a toothbrush, for example. It could wrap around your wrist and have an alarm for when you should brush your teeth. For all kinds of brainstorming, it is important to write the ideas down or do some drawing, when you get the ideas. Most artists have a very good practice of recording ideas, and everyone has had the experience of a really great idea coming to them and being strong in their mind only for it to fade if it is not written down. I try to look for ideas that encapsulate many ideas. Douglas Hofstadter called this 'chunking'. Chunking is a but like a fractal. A fractal has levels of information that get smaller and smaller. If you look at a chunked idea closely, you can see other ideas within it. These kinds of ideas can be powerful, because there are many ways to express them.

Once you had your idea how did you approach the phase of designing and planning for its realization?

The first thing I do is start talking to people about the idea. I'm hunting for feedback and ways to achieve what I'm after. I do filter the feedback though. One of my projects, Haiku robots, occurred to me in a swimming pool, when I was in the flow state and just obeying my intuitions without question. When I asked people with the usual view on software, they talked about it being hugely expensive. However I didn't take no for an answer and just kept on talking about the idea, and in the end some people with open source ideas figured out a way to do this. At a price artists can afford. You see, once you have information in the digital arena, there are many things you can do with the information. The trick is finding the simple points the project rests on. Again it is like chunking. Some parts of a project are critical, and if these parts work, then the whole thing can run.

Did you build a model or prototype for this piece? if so, how did you decide what to make it out of and can you describe the process?

It is critical for me to have images. I have a favorite notebook paper to draw on, and sometimes just use a ball point pen to visualize the idea. The visualization can actually be like a test bed. I can say to myself 'ok if it is like this, then I need that. On the other hand if it is done in that kind of way, I would need something else,' Images are good also to help people understand your idea. If an idea changes after speaking to someone, I go home and make a new visualization. Working with technology can be both rewarding and frustrating. Lots of things have to be right. You might need to meet multiple times to get one part right. But then it is very rewarding to finally get the piece working in the way you wanted it to.

Did this piece require doing research and if so can you share why it is important and how you go about it? Is there any advice you can offer about this phase?

I'm pretty much research hungry. There is so much information available now it is wonderful. I keep copies of interesting files I come across. I also try to store links in good places. I use Facebook and other online tools to spread interesting things, but also this is a way to store a link. Part of research is also talking to people. Communicating. Getting feedback. With experience you learn that capturing ideas in a notebook, on your blog, Facebook page or at delicious.com, is really important. Working with Te Huirangi Waikerepuru is research and learning rolled into one. He is very wise and also is generous in sharing his knowledge. Talking to people is serious research.

How did you test and evaluate your design? For example, did it work the first time or were there many versions before the final one? Do you have standard ways of testing your work?

There is no better way to test and evaluate an idea than exhibit it. If you have it in an exhibition you certainly will get feedback, but also it is important to see the work in reality. Experiencing the project in 4D spacetime is important. I always ensure functionality is in place before the exhibition opening (at least a few weeks ahead), but often the first time the whole project is brought together is in the exhibition space. On the one hand is takes a bit of courage and strength, but on the other hand fear of failure can be a powerful motivator to fix problems and resolve issues.

The test and evaluate phase is where we confront our limitations and “failures”. Often we prefer not to talk about them because we are encouraged to only talk about our successes. What can you share with students about the process of “success and failure” that emerges in the test and evaluation phase?

Usually an enormous amount of work has gone into a project, and it has taken a lot of emotional energy to get there. But it is always important to evaluate what worked and what didn't work, honestly. Very few projects are completely successful. There is always something that could be done differently. I try to connect projects up, so if one project is a failure, I can fix it the next time I show. So I think of projects as in a flow of exhibition points. I have found it useful to use the same functionalities, but reframe projects, have different expressions of the same things. That way you get to experience parts of the project in different forms.

What criteria did you use to evaluate your piece, or your work in general?

One criteria is: has the audience understood what it was I was aiming to do? The second is, has the project achieved what I wanted from my point of view? There is also, did it work in the space it was in? Another aspect is what consequences have arisen from the process of the project and it's presentation?

What do you get from sharing your work with others? This question addresses the greater question of why we create art in the first place? What is its role in society? Why is it important for us to create and share art?

I have worked in galleries as well as shown in them, and watched people look at a wide range of art and craft works. It seems to me that a part of the motivation for the audience to go to a gallery is to seek meaning. They want to understand, to have their experience added to. So I try to lay down lines of access, paths the audience can follow, if they are motivated to look closer at the work. Art of the type I do has this great capacity to draw people in, to connect, to share. This is important. Art can also cross borders, both cultural and discipline. Many of my projects have a dynamic part, that involves the audience or responds to them. So the audience is not simply looking, but engaging in different ways. We are also using art projects to draw attention to climate change, the relationship we have to Earth and also the importance of listening to the voice of indigenous people on the subject of the environment.

Did you have to collaborate to realize this piece? If so why? Is there anything you would like to share about the collaboration process?

Most of my recent projects require collaboration. It is important to find people who can work and in this country that means using email, internet and phone calls for most communication. Most is done online, with very few face to face meetings. I have found it better to work across cultures, especially if working across disciplines. I think because an artist and a scientist both from the West might have an argument about how they see the world, but if you are working with a Korean, it is just understood their main beliefs are different. So you just get on and do the project as best you can. The very best thing about collaboration is that you can achieve projects that are wider than the skills you have. You can dream and find the right people to help you.

Is there anything else about your creative process that you would like to share? Perhaps we missed an important part of your creative process.

It is a process, and at every stage the project can be made better. It's Ok if not everything goes how you intend it. The best creative people adapt their creativity to the situation. Flexible adaptation to the situation is a really useful skill.

Do you come from a STEM background or an Arts background? What is the STEM skill or concept that inspired or formed this piece, or your work in general?

I have an arts background, but have strong interest in innovative technology and was responsible for installing hi tech AV systems (touch control over internet for example) in lecture theaters for five years). Even as a painter I wanted to put cosmology and chaos theory into painting. There are many kinds of technology, but it takes an artist to provide a concept so the technology can sing. I'm not an expert at one thing. If I am expert at anything, it is picking up the technical thing to fill the gap and complete the project.

What was your experience with STEM in middle and high school and what would you change if you could?

STEM wasn't part of the school curriculum. However, the person regarded as the best maths teacher in Australasia taught me for a year and I don't know what he did but he made the anxiety about maths go away. He made maths seem possible, that it could be beaten. I wasn't a slave to it, trying to understand and getting nowhere.

Has working with science and technology improved your professional career or life and if so how?

It definitely has. This is because of the importance of innovation. Artists understand this very well. Even a painter develops or innovates on their work. Artist who work with technology, operate at the boundary of emerging technology. That because technology is always developing. So if you can get used to changing ground, to new things happening and even fun things dying out, then this can be very powerful. since taking on technology in art, I haven't really looked back. Lots of opportunities are there. Also you have an opportunity to integrate the most recent ideas, like getting involved in many cultures.

Can you share any differences and/or similarities between artistic and scientific creativity that you may have personally explored by uniquely merging the two in your work? Or you may choose to share the more general question of what the arts and sciences have in common, or differ?

Both require creativity. Einstein talked about the importance of intuition. Sometimes artists and scientist use the same tools - 3D modelling and video for example. Some of my projects explore exactly the ideas connecting art and science. There are quite a few. That said, there also differences. Scientists use different methods in their daily practice. The culture of being a scientist is different from the culture of being an artist.

How do you think artists can benefit from science / scientists? and/or visa versa, how do you think scientists/science can benefit from artistic creativity?

We can benefit because right now, we are making the planet worse for future generations. We have to stop this, and we need to get together to do that. Artists, scientist, thinkers, gardeners, we all have to join together and work on a better planet in the future.

How has your creative work influenced your use of technology and/or how has technology changed how you work or the pieces you make?

Well the first thing I did with technology and art was use Photoshop to make an image of me and my dead brother back together again. We grew up one year apart and he died when I was 19. I Photoshoped us together about 20 years later. This capacity of digital to unite, runs through much of what I do. It turns out there are many logical reasons why digital media or electronics can unite diversity. But I also have an emotional reason.

Do you think the arts are as important as science? If so why, if not why not?

There has not been a human society that only had science and no art. In fact, the evidence from early civilizations is of art. So we need both. We do need to recognize different people have different skills, they just need to find the place that unlocks their interests.