Cool science: Tyson Parks

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Tyson Parks

Technologist and winter resident of Eastern Bloc Tyson Parks possesses a DaVinci-esque curiousity for examining how things work. Inspired by 19th-century literature, modernist art movements and cutting edge technology, he tackles the ideas of abstraction, dimensionality and motion with his latest project, Mnetractoscope: Squint.

“I’m a fanboy when it comes to technology,” Parks says. Even the title of the series, Mnetractoscope, is an invented word related to his passion. “It refers to memory, but it’s also an homage to the pioneers of motion picture technology – Eadweard Muybridge and Joseph Plateau. They created devices throughout the 1800s that had these really quirky names like the zoopraxiscope and the phenakistoscope. Their devices let us understand motion in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Mnetractoscope

For mnetractoscopes, Parks uses the 3D printer, the contemporary technology du jour, to model a twisted, abstract form of a familiar object. The form is placed on a slow-spinning turntable. As it rotates, a fixed camera captures it as a live feed, the data is fed through Parks’ software, and a computer generates an image of the original, undistorted object. The overall effect is to turn something abstract into an understandable object, but the object only exists as an impression.

“I was inspired by Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland,” he says. In the book, shapes from different dimensions cannot comprehend one another. “I wanted to model a situation of experiencing fourth dimensionality,” he says. “But our perspectives are limited and we have a hard time understanding what the fourth dimension means.”

This led him to focus on the idea of slices. “In Flatland, a sphere passes through the second dimension. But to the square, who lives in the second dimension, the sphere only appears as a circle that gets bigger and then smaller.”

Parks’ object is made in slices, and the software used to decode the object into a non-abstract image also requires slices. “It’s a technique known as a slit scan,” he says, “It’s been around. The top of screen is present time, while the bottom of the screen has a 14-second delay.”

“Slices let us examine something in pieces that we can’t understand as a whole,” he says. “I’m interested how technology can be used to slice things and better understand certain elements or simplify data. You can see what’s inside.”

Parks delights in what he calls “reverse functionality” as part of the project. “I’m hoping there’s a scientific term for it,” he says, “It’s when a DJ plugs his headphones into the mixer and uses them as a mike. Something intended to emit sound is used to electrify sound. Motors work the same way. You can send electricity to a motor to create movement, or you can move the parts of the motor and create electricity instead.”

“I’m taking an abstract object and decoding the abstraction and bringing it back to a normal form as a way to understand it,” he says. “Just like with Muybridge’s photographic technology and a horse’s gallop. The motion was only understood with the invention of the technology.”

“A lot of these inventions totally changed the way our minds work,” he says. “They enabled modernist art movements. Take Cubism, for example. It’s based on a new understanding of time. It looks at the relationship between time and motion because it captures different fragments of time.”

Ultimately, Parks’ piece challenges viewers to think about their own limited perspectives and how they can work to overcome them, perhaps through techniques like reverse functionality. “We should live in a state of constant curiosity and constant questioning, trying as hard as possible to make as few assumptions as possible,” he concludes. “It’s really valuable to question the world you live in and the way you experience it.” ■

Tyson Parks’ Mnetractoscope: Squint is on display at Eastern Bloc (7240 Clark, 2nd floor) Feb 28 – March 3. Vernissage and artist talk Feb. 28, 6 p.m., free

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