Tatiana Plakhova Sees the Future with The Wall Street Journal
Cities are giant data centers. As hundreds of thousands of residents scurry around, they form neighborhoods and cultures and, eventually, needs all around them. As messy as people are, data is a little neater and opens windows into how to solve particular issues. By tracking the geography of crime, accidents, traffic, and even illnesses, officials can determine how to better allocate resources in more effective ways. Information has been used this way for decades, but just recently modern civic analytics has shifted making the information more accessible and more actionable. On Monday, April 17, The Wall Street Journal published a Journal Report on the “Future of Cities” and invited Tatiana Plakhova to illustrate the front page. Tatiana is best known for her ability to blend the biological with the mechanical, bringing math and digital sciences into the natural world. We’re most used to seeing her work with heavenly bodies, but as civic analytics develops and these data help us understand the behavior of city residents, we see that same convergence of the mathematic and the natural.
Tatiana’s illustration for The Wall Street Journal imagines a city scape of the future, not too different from the skylines we’re already see every day, but with sharper angles and glassier towers. These are the buildings where human beings live and work and breathe and laugh and eat and commute. Every skyline is the macro-shadow of the people who live in it. Every street is merely a pathway for human behavior, and Tatiana has given us those pathways with parabolic linear overlays (some even include data points) and fractal ripples. At the scale where a skyscraper fits behind your thumb it’s hard to see the people making the cities run, but Tatiana shows us both. The information implied through her schematics show the behavior in concert with her detailed buildings. She shows us a smart city, a city that’s flowing, understanding itself, developing. She shows us a city of the future.
Tatiana Plakhova Reaches the Stars with Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner
In Carl Sagan’s classic ‘Contact,’ he says, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” The universe’s vastness far outpaces the human imagination, and it’s not only likely that there’s other life out there, it’s a statistical certainty. The question isn’t if they’re out there, the question is where they are. And how far away they are. Because of the limits of our current technology, it takes us an incredible amount of time to cross the distances required to find the next living forms. So, Stephen Hawking is teaming up with Yuri Milner to bridge that gap. In an effort called ‘Breakthrough Starshot,’ they’re using non-traditional technologies to rocket our species’ introduction across the stars, and they asked Tatiana Plakhovha to help them announce it with Mark Zuckerberg. She created an image that both Hawking and Zuckerberg shared on their personal Facebook pages explaining the project, and it was a total thrill for Tatiana. “I was happy as a child when I saw my image on Stephen Hawking’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s profiles!,” says Tatiana. “Then people told me this image was shown in all the world news.”
Creating imagery that is true to incredible science while satisfying minds like Hawking and Milner isn’t easy. Tatiana’s work strikes a balance between science fiction and abstraction, but tied to something like Breakthrough Starshot, Tatiana went a little more literal. To spread the Earth’s message, they’re going to create a “fleet” of “nanocraft” that can rocked towards Alpha Centauri at 100 million miles per hour, reaching our nearest star in only 20 years. They’ll achieve this by creating space sails that rather than wind will catch light from an array of laser beams. Tatiana’s image shows these space sails in incredible formation as they’re blown away from the Earth.
As a native Russian, space has always been an interest of Tatiana’s, reaching all the way back to her childhood. “I’m extremely interested in space exploration,” says Tatiana. “Like many Soviet Union children I was deeply inspired by Gagarin’s flight. I even played a game with my friends for a few years; we would sit in my room near the window, pretending that we’re flying in a cosmic ship. That was really fun.” As the future comes closer to us by the day, galactic exploration and travel is almost within reach for us. What was once a child’s game is very much turning into a reality. We just have to grab onto it.
The Art of Mathematics
For many, science and art are to be kept separate. Of different worlds, science and art represent distinct modalities of thinking and have entirely unique provenances. Where science is about order, art is about emotional expression which is rarely, if ever, tidy. But the line between these two worlds is perhaps less strict than some realize. For Tatiana Plakhova, a new addition to the B&A roster, there is no line. For Tatiana, they are the same.
One of Tatiana’s broadest collections, “Chaos and Structure,” offers a poignant look at her process and ideation. For this collection she started with maps that offer perhaps the keenest combination of science and art. Where maps provide accurate geographical presentation of points in space, the mapmaker may employ their own artistry adding a grace to their work. For her own pieces, Tatiana starts with historical record and then makes it her own. “It’s a real map of stars that was made in the 19th century,” she describes one of the pieces from this collection. “Real structure, real stars. I made sizes of every dot exactly as it was in the original map. And then I just made it abstract, adding some of my graphic work to make some mess.” This mess she describes is actually a meticulously created visual language that she develops for each different piece.
When she starts on a project she engages in a fury of tangible brainstorming, putting down on paper everything that enters into her creative flow. “In the beginning I make many, many, many elements,” she says. Then she pieces each of these elements into larger and larger compositions that she describes like constructing linguistics. “I make letters then I make words then I make phrases. It’s like linguistic work. When I have this library of elements, I just play around. For this collection the theme was stars and maps and eternity.” So much of the process is organic that it’s almost as if it happens through Tatiana instead of at her behest. “I don’t actually choose what to draw,” she explains. Instead, she just gets out of the way of the work arriving through her process.
We welcome Tatiana Plakhova to our roster. Please take a few moments to look through her portfolio.