Dan Goods Interview with viralnet.net :: "A Magnified Beauty"

“One must love space to describe it as minutely as though there were world molecules, to enclose an entire spectacle in a molecule of drawing.”
—Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space”

VN.N:: First off, thanks so much for participating in our Radical Cosmologies project.

Let's start with how NASA defines cosmology. NASA defines cosmology as “the study of the structure and changes in the present universe.” The philosopher, Gaston Bachelard in “Poetics of Space” presents us with an anthro-cosmology—an “inhabited space” that “transcends geometrical space.” So as someone who inhabits the parallel worlds of art and science, how do you define cosmology? Is it an inhabited space, a study or a way of mapping our imagination?

DG:: I find that artists and scientists inhabit closer worlds than most people think. They are both dreamers asking “what if” questions, are fascinated with big ideas, and have a desire to learn what has not been learned. They just go about their investigations differently. As for the definition of cosmology, it's a bit strange, but I haven't spent much time pondering the answer to that question. I tend to have difficulty with definitions as they constantly change. Im ok with ambiguity and change, to a point.

VN.N:: Tell us about some of your “what ifs.” It seems that you have a talent for being able to articulate “big ideas” and a how you “learn what has not been learned.”

DG:: The portfolio that got me into JPL was a three-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional object, swimming at Caltech as research for visualizing data, and making a pipe organ out of soda pop bottles.

Once I got to JPL I put together an installation called “the Big Playground” where I drilled a hole into a grain of sand. The hole was 1/10th the size of the grain. That hole represents the area humans have looked, and have already found thousands of planets within our galaxy. The planets that we can discover are really big because we don't have the technology to see small planets like our earth. To show the rest of the galaxies in the universe would take six rooms full of sand.

So there are thousands more planets in that tiny area of our galaxy, let alone the rest of the galaxy, let alone all the other galaxies. The project puts our daily life in perspective both visually and experientially.

VN.N:: So here's two questions in one—Is the “Big Playground” a radical cosmology? Gaston Bachelard writes about physical space and poetic truth. He was interested in both science and philosophy. I think that “Big Playground” certainly has an educative purpose- but it is also very poetic at the same time. Could this be the reason why JPL is interested in working with artists? Artists can visualize information in untraditional ways—they can produce unexpected outcomes developed from the direct experience of data.

DG:: People learn in a multitude of ways. Some hear facts and numbers and understand right away. Other people like me, learn best through an experience.

Regarding the “Big Playground” piece, JPL has been working on new technologies to find earth-like planets around other stars and I was trying to understand the probability of accomplishing this “Star Trek” like endeavor. My colleagues at JPL would give me facts and numbers to work with. The numbers were so big and abstract, they meant nothing to me, so I wanted to create something to experience their enormity and meaning.

The work I do at JPL always has a side of learning, but I want people to learn through poetry, and to be intrigued by mystery. Space is full of poetry, mystery, and expansive ideas. Something that holds all three is on its way to being a radical cosmology.

VN.N:: Bachelard talks about light bulbs in this way—he says, “The electric bulb is an object of scientific thought.” Are your projects designed to be objects of scientific thought? Do you define your creative practice as making invisible ideas visible, perhaps by mapping them onto physical forms?

DG:: I am fascinated by all that is around us that we cannot sense. We can only see a tiny fraction of all the light that is right in front of us. Particles from super nova explosions have traveled millions of years only to pass through your body, right now. Science, relationships, politics, faith, culture... many of the things that make us human have aspects that are invisible. We either need the right frame of mind, or a new technology that can sense what is there. I want people to see that there is more to the world than they think... to make them think.

VN.N:: The artist Ned Kahn talks about his work as “capturing an invisible aspect of nature”—you seem to be wanting to capture an invisible sense of the cosmos...

DG:: I love Ned's work. He finds patterns and effects in nature that most people pass by, and then he magnifies them in beautiful ways. I am drawn to the cosmos, and have gotten a lot of opportunities in the world of space sciences, but I am fascinated by all of life. What ever the subject matter is, I want to find its essence and magnify it in beautiful and meaningful ways.

VN.N:: In regards to your idea of “magnifying nature in beautiful ways”—there was a 19th century landscape painter named George Inness—he died in Scotland in 1894. According to legend, he was looking at the sunset one day, and in awe, he exclaimed, “My God! How beautiful!” He then collapsed and died, shortly thereafter.

Your friend Lou Danzinger says that “things and outcomes are consequences of processes.” Do you think that science and nature are things that can be expressed as outcomes of a magnified beauty? Can astronomy or physics move us in the same “radical” way that the Scottish sunset moved Inness?

DG:: It's funny, a sunset is all astronomy and physics—so yes... I don't know anyone who can look at some of the Hubble Space Telescope images and not be moved. Scale is so important to science, and space in general (the far distances, the long time frames, the incredible distances), it has everything to do with a magnified beauty.