Campus sculpture tour: Spiral into nature with Heath Satow's 'Inflorescence'

A dazzling display of light, form and reflection make this mathematically-organic work a centerpiece of the ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building entrance.

Inflorescence as viewed at night, reflecting the hue of its motion-sensing lights. Photo by Mark Zimmerman.

A student’s first visit to the ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building (CPISB) — hopefully starts at the front, where — figuratively and literally — an eye into the world around them awaits. This “eye” is the result of a highly-detailed Fibonacci sequence, which was Ogden, Utah-based artist Heath Satow’s inspiration for the form of a stainless steel sculpture.

“The spiraling forms you see in the piece are an expression of mathematical processes, and you'll see them in forms from the micro, like DNA, to the macro, like galaxy formations,” Satow told UAA’s Green and Gold News in 2017. 

Present in the shells of nautili, the human face and even ancient architecture, the Fibonacci sequence has been a fixture of mathematics for millennia. The pattern is a spiral, wherein each curve has the radius of the sum of two previous curves. This concept was first documented by Indian mathematician and poet Pingala around 200 B.C., with Virahanka, a student of his work, documenting its rules about 1,000 years later. It was brought to the West in 1202 by Italian mathematician Leonardo — or “Fibonacci” — of Pisa. 

Satow aimed to invoke the natural world with this decidedly natural pattern. In October 2013, his design — a spiral made of hundreds reflective shards of stainless steel — was awarded a commission by UAA. It was placed directly in front of the CPISB, gazing inward at the complex’s lobby. 

The numerous constituent panels — what Satow refers to as either “seeds, atoms, or cells” on his interactive sculpture map — branch out in a mathematically-defined pattern to form the larger spiral. While the sculpture coalesces into a cohesive unit from a distance, its smaller repetitions and mechanical complexity come into view as an observer approaches.

These reflective polygonal surfaces of the sculpture almost appear to bend and diffuse the world around them. For Satow, this natural ebb and flow of perspective was crucial in drawing viewers into the piece, saying to Green and Gold that “[Inflorescence] has a very focused form, so that eases you into it.”

With its hundreds of eyes into the world, “Inflorescence” appears almost organic — moving and gesticulating with its audience. A cleverly-recessed motion-tracking light source compounds these characteristics in a way that compliments the prickly outlines of the metal organism. 

This complexity, of course, wasn’t without its challenges. Though Satow’s studio estimated a May 2015 completion in their press release, the final installation didn’t occur until two years later, in June 2017. This was a result of the design’s intricacy, requiring over 80 pages of calculations, numerous CAD renders, and years of fabrication in Satow’s former Los Angeles warehouse. 

Today, students can still see the world through “Infloresence’s” eye, and watch as the natural world lends its breath to this artificial canvas.