Desmond Paul Henry - Henry and Fractal Mathematics

Henry and Fractal Mathematics

Henry’s introduction in 2001 to the aesthetic application of fractal mathematics (Briggs 1994) provided Henry with the necessary terms of reference for describing the chance-based operational aspects of his machines. Fractal mathematics could also help describe the aesthetic appreciation of his machine-generated effects or ‘mechanical fractals’(Henry 2002) as he came to term them (O’Hanrahan 2005).

Fractal systems are produced by a dynamic, non-linear system of interdependent and interacting elements; in Henry’s case, this is represented by the mechanisms and motions of the drawing machine itself (ibid). In a fractal system, as in each Henry drawing machine, very small changes or adjustments to initial influences can have far-reaching effects.

Fractal images appeal to our intuitive aesthetic appreciation of order and chaos combined. Each Henry machine-produced drawing bears all the hallmarks of a fractal image since they embody regularity and repetition coupled with abrupt changes and discontinuities (Briggs 1994). In other words, they exhibit self-similarity (similar details on different scales) and simultaneous order and chaos. These images also resemble fractal ‘strange attractors’, since groups of curves present in the machine-generated effects tend to form clusters creating suggestive patterns (Briggs 1994).

Fractal patterns, similar to Henry's machine-generated effects, have been found to exist when plotting volcanic tremors, weather systems, the ECG of heart beats and the electroencephalographic data of brain activity (ibid.).

Henry found in fractals a means of both classifying his artistic activity and describing the aesthetic appreciation of his visual effects. Among the many artists who have previously employed what are now recognised as fractal images, are: 'Vincent Van Gogh’s dense swirls of energy around objects; the recursive geometries of Maritus Escher; the drip-paint, tangled abstractions of Jackson Pollock' (ibid p.166).

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