Written by Lizzie Ingraham, republished from ilandsymposium.wordpress.com:
Like many recent college graduates, I made my entrance into the real world in a whirl of opportunity and uncertainty. As if graduating weren’t overwhelming enough, I decided to move to New York City to try to find my calling and to pursue my passions. Here I found iLAND, whose expanded acronym says it all: the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art Nature and Dance. Though I’ve never considered myself a scientist, the weekend I spent with one of the organization’s residencies, collaborators Liz, Jessica, and Lailye, along with “kite masters” Matt and Leo made me realize that I’ve been experimenting in an interdisciplinary fashion all my life. The very first introductions on the first day, when interested parties from all walks of life (dancers, environmentalists, community organizers, artists, landscape architects, to name a few) explained their relationship to the workshop leaders and to kite flying exemplified the scope of intellectual and creative minds that iLAND hopes to reach as well as the universal appeal of the beauty of flight.
Over the course of the weekend-long workshop, I was struck by a recurring theme of intuitive adjustment. Modifications in the acts of design and creation as well as in flight and flying seemed not only logical, but also inherently natural. It is not surprising that the first airplane designs were based structurally and conceptually on kites. Even more instinctive is the very existence of solar balloons: an answer to the global helium shortage problem we’ve created for ourselves. Though it may seem kites and balloons have fallen by the wayside in terms of the technological advancement of flight, recent awareness of earth’s limited resources and our society’s misuse of such have re-kindled an interest in self-propulsion and renewable energy. HigherED (Ecology and Dance) utilizes two such forms of energy, wind and solar, in their attempt to explore the intersection between the movements of airborne manufactured bodies and those of the human body in a space of slightly lower altitude. To my initial chagrin and eventual appreciation, kite and balloon building involved a lot of math. One of the first secrets revealed by the kite masters during our balloon training was some kind of relationship between angles and side lengths and the square root of three. In my very limited mathematical experience, I had always considered square roots abstract quantities; terms used to represent unfathomable numbers, and I was surprised to learn they could be used in this very physical, tangible, sense. The experience brought to mind one of the great artistic collaborations in modern dance, that of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, for whom math and patterns and the manipulations thereof were a large influence in the creations of choreography and score. This thought in turn led me to question how a miscalculation or an intentional asymmetry would affect flight. The answer, I learned, is not much in the case of solar balloons, as they are not terribly aerodynamic to begin with. I was also fascinated to learn that asymmetrical kites would indeed fly, and that constructing a kite that is slightly off in any dimension will not have too large an effect as long as both sides are modified.
All the physics and math really came together when I flew some kites myself and realized that my body was naturally inclined to compensate for wind patterns and the resulting movements of the kite. Just as the body as a whole compensates for deficiencies in individual body parts (i.e. a stronger left ankle counteracting a past injury in the right), the relationship between a kite, the flier, and the surrounding environment must always be in balance. Even, and perhaps especially, the imperfections.