Flowform vessels allow the water flowing through them to develop sustained rhythmic flow. This is due purely to the shape of the vessel.
The shaped surfaces of the forms act sympathetically upon the water in them, generating swinging or pulsing movements. This occurs even though the water enters in a steady flow. The process can be compared to the creation of rhythmic air movement and hence the sound in a wind instrument. Development of these forms often requires much experimentation – the shape of any one design of Flowform may take months or even years to perfect. It really is like tuning an instrument.
There is a spectrum of possibilities for the expression of rhythmic flow. Many different designs have been made in order to explore this spectrum, some very elegant and artistically satisfying forms, some more functional. So the Flowform work can be seen from the artistic side as the unfolding of this range of water sculptures embodying the same idea in aesthetically varied ways.
Developing applications within living systems is more scientifically oriented, but since every form of life expresses itself differently according to context, we need to think in terms of whole ecologies- organisms rather than mechanisms. This is where a qualitative scientific approach can be very helpful and the artistic and the practical can come together. The Flow forms can be part of a respectful approach to working with nature where we work in conversation rather than directing and manipulating.
Since the initial discovery of this phenomenon over forty years ago a very wide range of designs have been created. There are Flow forms with delicate water movements suitable for smaller enclosed spaces, and massive forms with very vigorous movements that can enliven large open landscapes. In some the movements are reminiscent of a heartbeat, in others of a slower ‘breathing’. Some give a musical tinkling and others that produce a sound more like that of waves lapping on a shoreline. These qualities have proved especially valuable in therapeutic situations and school environments.
The forms have also found many practical uses in agriculture and ecological work. They have been used to enhance liquid manure, in compost tea production, in potentization of agricultural preparations, in natural waste water cleaning systems, in baking processes, fermentation, and food handling.
John Wilkes, a trained sculptor, had been working with water for several years searching for ways to enhance it through flow over surfaces generated through projective geometry. This was done in conjunction with George Adams who had revealed the geometry within natural form, and Theodor Schwenk a scientist working with a phenomenological approach to water.
Although water usually flows in an asymmetric way, John decided to investigate how water would respond when presented with symmetrical forms, as living organisms often develop symmetrically. Almost immediately he found rhythmic flow arising. Later investigation showed that to develop rhythm it was a question of finding a double bowl of appropriate proportions for a given flow speed and with the appropriate measure of resistance. The water needs to meet itself within the form and there needs to be a suitable space to allow a dynamic movement to develop. Within the double bowl this flow can have a lemniscatory (figure of eight) form. A research colleague, Dr Philip Kilner, went on to discover that rhythmic flow could also happen within a single bowl. This is very similar to the development of rhythmic flow in the bloodstream of a developing embryo prior to the formation of the heart. Philip returned to the medical world where he continues to work in the realm of heart flow dynamics.
There is an interesting relationship between the way water flows and the geometry inherent in natural form. One simple archetypal geometrical construction giving rise to the form of the heart, plant buds etc. as well as the spiral vortex and the form of antelope and cow horns. These are called path curve surfaces, although there is always a range of possible surfaces, and a field of form is maybe a better way to describe it. In giving expression to elegant flow, one is also tuning the water towards such a field of form. In some instances this can therefore help the forming influences work into life. Here again however we need to realize that to try to engineer nature may be counterproductive, every situation is different and a contextual understanding is important. This is a field of on going research where the development of the researcher goes hand on hand with the development of the knowledge base.
The possibilities for collaborative research are being explored between researchers in many different countries and institutions. These include the Foundation for Water in Sussex UK, the Institute of Flow Science in Herreshried southern Germany and the Field Centre in Gloucestershire UK.