Dominic Hopkinson | Nature of Balance

“Nature of Balance” is a sculpture made in 2005 by artist Dominic Hopkinson. Measuring (W)110cm x (d)70 x (h)80 and weighing approx 1.5tonne this sculpture in Kilkenny Limestone has been donated to BasementArtsProject. We are currently working on getting it sited permanently in a public place in South Leeds as part of a larger project entitled “On the Corner”. This project has been timed to coincide with the Yorkshire Sculpture International and the Index Festival.

An Interview . . .

The following interview is taking place by e-mail and will be updated with each response over the course of the Index Festival and On The Corner. . .

BD: Can you tell me a bit about what you have been doing since your last exhibition (A Study of Aperiodic Tiling with special reference to the 3rd dimension) here at BasementArtsProject?

DH: First of all I can’t quite believe that was back in 2016! Time flies. So back in June 2016 I was elected a member of the Royal Society of Sculptors, after the Director of the RSS read a piece you and I had written about my exhibition “A Harmony of Spheres” in 2015.

In June 2017 I began an Arts Council England funded residency at the School of Mathematics at University of Leeds, working with researchers studying how aperiodic systems function in 3dimensional space. How do atoms bind into a lattice that expresses this strange aperiodic form? The funding for this project was for a year, though I stayed with the researchers until August 2018 and continue to have access to them as and when convenient.

In 2017 and 2018 I was invited to exhibit and subsequently sell some work at the Cotswold Sculpture Park. An invitation that came directly from me being a member of the Royal Society of Sculptors.

Work at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

I was then invited to exhibit a significant piece of work at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, which ran from May to November. Again this invitation occurred through the Royal Society of Sculptors, and underlines the importance, for me of that piece of writing we did together and that you got published.

Since Venice I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible in my studio making new work based on my research from the residency.

BD: I believe the residency has taken you further down the rabbit warren of research that is aperiodic tiling and led you into the creation of some large and many surfaced structures for which there are no names yet. Could you tell us something about these?
DH: Yes, the research during the residency was fascinating for me, and I learnt so much, although I think “falling down a wormhole” would describe it better. The subject of aperiodic systems, at a basic level, appears really quite straightforward, yet it contains so many connections to other branches of maths and is so subtle and complex that for much of my residency my brain actually hurt. Trying to acquire even a small level of deep mathematical understanding was extraordinarily difficult, but I had my moments where I felt that I was contributing something positive to the mathematical work.
The funded part of the residency ended last summer when I attended two, week long conferences, one at the International Centre for Mathematical Studies in Edinburgh, titled “Quasicrystals: pattern formation and aperiodic order”, where I presented a talk on my work, before Prof. Roger Penrose gave the keynote! Penrose is one of the founders of the study of aperiodic timings. The second conference was at University of Leeds, and was aimed at a much more practical or applied part of the research. “Pattern formation in fluids and soft matter” was organised by Dr. Priya Subramanian, who was one of the research teams main members. You will notice that both conference titles contained the word “pattern” so this gave me a little faith in the validity of my participation. Imposter syndrome was never far from the scene.
Spending time in the studio now is vital, partly to make new work based on the research, but also to be able just to gestate and assimilate that learning. To interpret the ideas into a physical, material based practice that enables me to make sculpture. This takes time and involves a continuous process of reading around the subject, keeping up to date with new papers and trying not to forget too much learning.
So some of the newest work, still in progress, looks at how large scale structures evolve in 3dimensional space using the aperiodic tiling, and how these are directly related to the 2dimensional tilings. There is a way of “lifting” the flat tiles (in maths speak an “orthogonal projection of the plane”) that generates a sort of corrugated relief surface which sits half way between the 2dimensional plane and the fully 3dimensional space.

The really large object in production is again constructed with the single shaped tile and is actually generated by packing two previously built objects together. This piece is currently 420 faces, but when it’s finished will have grown to 540 faces. There is a set of protocols for how to name large geometric objects and so a 540 faced shape is called a Penta hecta tetra contrahedron, but all one word.... Pentahectatetracontrahedron!!

BD: Alongside this you also seem to have a divergent strand of enquiry also based on the patterns created by your previous experiments in aperiodic tiling. During the Yorkshire Sculpture International 2019, as part of Index Festival, BasementArtsProject will be displaying one of this series currently under construction. What can tell us about the thinking / science behind what is happening with the way you have netted this piece of Carrera Marble with a wraparound pattern? 

DH: Yes, this piece looks radically different to my recent work with the tiling systems, yet the two bodies of work are fundamentally related, and it is this level of connectedness that I find so fascinating.

This piece is from a new body of work that looks at a process known as “reaction/diffusion” or Turing Patterns, and is how nature generates a multitude of patterns, from ripples in sand to zebra stripes and leopard spots. It is a chemical process, in animals, involving chemicals that don’t mix (reaction) and that spread (diffuse) at different rates. This causes the pigmentation in the skin to locally colour differently, and is fixed at an early developemental phase, resulting in the patterns we observe. (This simple, complex system can be recreated in a Petrie dish, the experiment being first performed and studied by Belousov and Zhabotinsky in the 1950’s) However, the chemical process is defined by a set of mathematical equations that effectively establish the parameters within which this chemical pattern growth takes place. The patterns are all definable mathematically, and this was the last research Alan Turing was doing before he committed suicide in 1954.

With this new body of work, I’m also looking at a previous interest; how do 2dimensional patterns translate onto a 3 dimensional object? Think of trying to wrap a ball in a sheet of paper; the paper will have to either rip of fold/overlap in order to cover the surface of the ball. Is there a way of either designing or manipulating the mechanism for this dimensional translation to avoid rips and overlaps? 

So, I make images of Turing Patterns on a computer using a simple technique in photoshop that allows a set of parameters to be defined, that then mimics the way these patterns are created in nature. These images then act as guides to laying out the pattern so that it wraps around a 3dimensional block of stone, ready for carving. This body of work is still ongoing so I haven’t decided on titles for the work yet, I kind of need to see all the pieces completed. The titles will hopefully build a narrative across the whole body of work that will contain/convey aspects of the scientific/mathematical concepts the works relate to. 

BD: Nature of Balance is quite a lot older than the aforementioned works, what can you tell us about the making of that piece? The impetus, the science . . . ?

DH: Yes, this piece was completed in 2005, and is looking at ideas I was working on before the Aperiodic tiling work, yet the concepts and ideas are related and connected.

“Nature of Balance” came out of work I was making that was looking at a mathematical theory called Closest Packing of Spheres, ie. how 3dimensional objects fill space in the most efficient way. The simple analogy for packing theory is to ask how many oranges can you fit into a box of a given size. By packing them in different ways you can fit more or less in, and there is a specific formula that proves maximum packing efficiency. 

I received Arts Council England funding in 2005 to undertake a research project with a multi-disciplinary group called egenis, who were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and were based at the University of Exeter. This was shortly after the completion of the Human Genome Project to sequence a full human DNA code and egenis were looking at various impacts of this research and how to create a new course/research field (this became known as Bio-informatics) that was able to analyse and study the mass of new information available. I became interested in how DNA was packed in space inside cells, and how the cells packed into molecules, and how molecules packed etc…

I found a way of making objects that packed together using party balloons and plaster of Paris that seemed a fairly direct analogy to real cells.


The balloon was a flexible membrane filled with a liquid, much the same as a real cell, the main difference being that the plaster in the balloon set solid and therefore kept a specific shape. I was making work that looked at how these flexible spheres could fill space according to Closest Packing and began playing with different shaped balloons. 

“Nature of Balance” came about when I began using the long “sausage” shaped balloons instead of the normal round ones. I had originally thought of twisting two plaster filled long balloons around one another, but ended up with one almost perfect lozenge or capsule shape around which I wrapped the second. These two shapes fitted together, only sat on one point each, were mutually supporting and balanced. The whole sculpture could roll backwards and forwards, within parameters, its shape stopping it from rolling over fully and the shapes locked together. 

I then carved the piece in two large pieces of Kilkenny Limestone, weighing a total of about a tonne.

More soon . . .

The Process . . . .

Carving Nature of Balance

Nature of Balance in 2005 with maquette

Returning Nature of Balance to sculptor’s studio (2018)

Looking into the necessary conservation work needed to return the surfaces to their original condition