SciArt Center Featured Member of the Month
Science Communicator, Theoretical Physicist, Digital Artist in UCSC OpenLab and DANM MFA program
I believe that science has made quite remarkable contributions to society but that it still needs to be questioned in terms of the claims it makes, especially regarding ontology and epistemology. These are not incompatible but merely different aspects of a healthy interaction of science with other fields. To me, a science communicator ought to be exploring that interaction including the facilitation of communication between science and other fields, especially recognizing that both sides in the communication act need comparable stakes in the dialogue.
Too much communication is guilty of subscribing to the ‘deficit model’ in which people believe that others will become sympathetic to their cause if only they knew more about it. This has been shown time and again over the past decades to be a false belief. This false belief is true of most scientists, most artists, and most people in general. Instead of facts as the atomic elements of conversation, I think we need to think in terms of stories and questions as the foundations of what we do. What questions are we asking of nature and culture and how can the process of answering those questions help us to better understanding?
A visitor sets off a sequence of light and sound upon interacting with “Neutrino Flux”. Image courtesy of the artist.
So, for example, in my piece Neutrino Flux, visitors experience very different things depending on their incoming level of understanding about the science that the piece references (an experiment formed from a cubic kilometer of ice a mile under the surface in Antarctica). Visitors who don’t know much about the science will experience their body moving in space, making occasional interactions with other objects, and causing effects in that space. Their experience might be of beauty and intrigue as they discover the light and sound interactions they cause but perhaps they’ll also feel the displacement from everyday life to that of the clean, clinical nature of scientific exploration in the context of an under-ice experiment. Scientists might notice the buried references to the Antarctic experiment in the geometry, layout, dynamics, and sound of the installation. And from that knowledge deduce that they have taken on the role of the neutrino, an ephemeral, hard to perceive fundamental particle as they pass through the installation reflecting on the various infinitudes and infinitesimals reflected by the piece. One thing I don’t want to do is be too didactic in my presentation of science.
Charlie’s Bear. The proximity sensing (RFID) guts of a teddy bear are inserted, ready to interact via sound with a child’s other toys. Image courtesy of the artist.
D: I am surprisingly uninterested in technology but fascinated by science. So for me, technology is merely a tool I use in the exploration of the questions that drive me. A lot of what passes for sciart (a term I find problematic at best and could write a lot more about) is about technology rather than science and I just don’t find it that interesting. I am interested in work that is credible to both scientists and artists and I just say thanks to the technologists who allow many of my pieces to exist.Now it is true that new technology allows us to think new things and some of those things are things I want to think. But, for me, technology is generally a path to getting there rather than a driver of questions. I tend to adopt technology rapidly and then try not to let the focus be drawn too much by it in my work. I’ve had people suggest to me often that I should expose the electronics embedded in much of my work as they find it aesthetically interesting, but to me it just detracts from the questions the work is really about. I think that is probably something I learned from journalism—don’t let the words get in the way of the concepts and message.
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Roger F. Malina, Carol Strohecker, and Carol LaFayette, on behalf of SEAD network contributors
In 2012, The Network for Sciences, Engineering, Arts, and Design (SEAD) launched a White Papers initiative that UCSC OpenLab participated in to build community awareness of perceived challenges and opportunities for transdisciplinary collaboration across the breadth of science, engineering, art, design and the humanities. The resulting study takes note of the growing international interest and development of initiatives in universities, corporations and civil society.This synthesis report offers a set of “action clusters” common to texts from the international response by SEAD members. Suggested Actions are structured according to similarities of motivation and purpose, and addressed to specific stakeholders.
The SEAD White Papers initiative was chaired by Roger Malina and co-chaired by Carol Strohecker, with the assistance of an international Steering Group and coordination by Carol LaFayette and Amy Ione, Managing Editor. The report contains images from SEAD collaborators and links to all White Papers contributions.
SEAD was funded under the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant No. 1142510. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Download the report for free below.
Using art to examine topics from Environmental Studies is a powerful way to connect with people at the emotional and belief-system levels to challenge preconceptions and motivate action.
These interdisciplinary collaborations can provide strategies towards developing innovative approaches to live sustainably and safe guard biodiversity. Seeking Symbiosis is a collaboration between Juniper Harrower, a PhD student in the Environmental Studies Department, and Dr. Geoffrey Thomas, a Research Associate in the Art Department and OpenLab, to educate students on the impacts of human driven global change on ecosystem processes and biodiversity. Juniper’s work examines the impacts of climate change on Joshua trees and their symbiotic fungi. With studies suggesting that Joshua trees could be mostly extinct from Joshua Tree National Park within 60-90 years, she hopes to inspire students to think critically about our responsibility to address global biodiversity loss. Using imagery from Juniper’s research, and working with Joshua trees at the UCSC greenhouse, students created triptychs about Joshua tree loss to engage with the scientific and cultural discourses surrounding climate change and environmentalism.
Dr. Thomas’s class will be offered again in Spring 2015: Special Topics in Drawing – Digital Storytelling, Art 119-2. Additionally, students interested in future art/science collaborations can get involved with a soon to be announced art/science competition on campus organized through WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).
ROOM FOR BIG IDEAS: TRANSFLUX
Transflux, an interactive exhibition where the artists transform the Front Door Gallery into a living, breathing organism and symbiotic ecosystem.
Through the exploration of the interconnectedness of our inner and outer world, the artists demonstrate the patterns and forms within life that shape who we are and where we come from. The use of natural and electro-mechanical systems, formed from ancient and contemporary modes of art and technology, creates an imitation of life (biomimicry) within a contained space, where the visitor can realize the impact of their individual actions upon the whole environment. This deep awareness of one’s influence upon their surroundings empowers the individual to make conscious decisions in everyday life that contribute to a more positive universal well-being.
As soon as the visitor enters the space, they become an invaluable part of the environment, producing reactive environmental responses and adaptations based on their own personal choices. The integrated systems constantly evolve due to hyper-sensitive sensors and data systems that react to influences both inside and outside the space, creating an individualized experience for every visitor.
OpenLab will present Merlin’s Cave at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz. Merlin’s Cave is an immersive, multi-sensory installation showcasing works with the Digital Arts and New Media Mechatronics project group: Steve Trimmer, Sean Pace, David Harris, and Zach Corse.
The installation will activate aspects in the legend of Merlin’s Cave through light, fog, and projections.
When: January 16, 2015, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Cost: $5 General, $3 Students, Seniors and Kids, FREE for MAH Members and Children under 3
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz, CA, 95060, United States Phone: 831.429.1964
By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel – POSTED: |
Geoffrey Thomas imagines a future with seed-spreading tarantula robots and genetically-engineered giant sloths.
These whimsical ideas, the subject of three digital art images, have a ring of truth, said Thomas, who collaborated with Juniper Harrower, a UCSC environmental studies graduate student studying the tree. The duo is planning to create an educational mobile app and short animations from the sketches within the next year. Once found throughout the American Southwest, the tree is now only found in California’s Joshua Tree National Park and small areas of Utah, Nevada and Arizona. As deserts become hotter and drier, the tree’s range marches north toward higher and cooler elevations, as animals carry the seeds in their digestive tracts.
Seeds were once spread by car-sized sloths, now extinct. Now the tree depends mostly on rats, which can’t spread it fast enough to keep up with climate change, said Harrower.
Within 60 to 90 years, climate models predict that most of the Joshua trees within the national park will disappear, she said.
Thomas said humans have transformed the planet and must be intimately involved in saving it, an idea that shapes his art.
“We are nature now. It’s not a separate thing from us,” Thomas said.
Thomas and Harrower also co-led a digital art class this fall in which students created their own Joshua tree projects. Harrower, a guest lecturer, spoke about the tree’s fragile future and took students to a campus greenhouse showcasing 20-year-old Joshua tree seedlings, which grow to around 40 feet as adults over hundreds of years.
Harrower said a partnership between artists and scientists is critical, not only to help science reach a wide audience, but also to push thought beyond the obvious.
“I think you can get this really interesting, beautiful science from these massive paradigm shifts, which comes from being open to creative thought,” said Harrower, also UCSC’s Women in Sciences and Engineering art and science outreach officer.
Using Adobe Illustrator or digital photography, students created short comic strips inspired by the tree’s plight.
Camilly Pereira, a senior art and economics double major, said she was struck by the crucial relationship between the tree and the yucca moth, the only animal which pollinates it. Joshua tree flowers, in turn, are the only place where yucca moths lay eggs.
Pereira spent more than 40 hours creating three simple, clear images: a cocoon, a seed and a flowering tree covered in moths, she said.
“I just thought it was a really good visual representation of how much the Joshua tree not only depends on the yucca moth, but also how much we depend on plants and animals to keep things thriving for us too,” Pereira said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
OpenLab: Blue Trail was recently awarded $10,000 from Alliance Data and its Epsilon business to help further the innovation and construction of 10 interactive art-design-tech installations that have been designed for San Francisco’s waterfront. Ideally it will consist of an interactive art and technology “trail” that engages people in art and ocean sustainability. Each installation has been designed to introduce the mystery, beauty and fragility of the world’s oceans and to inform the community on ocean conservation.
The grant is especially significant since it was made through Alliance Data’s Internal Grant Rewards Program that encourages employees to request financial support for their favorite nonprofit organization. “Our employees have a unique opportunity to blend our distinctive skill set and our commitment to the community by bringing awareness and enhancing the experience of Blue Trail’s project,” said Dana Beckman, senior manager of external communications for Alliance Data. “Through this partnership with Blue Trail, Epsilon employees are able to share their expertise with the organization.”
“I’m thrilled about the award and especially excited to have created a new partnership between Epsilon and UCSC OpenLab,” said Associate Professor of Art and OpenLab’s founding director, Jennifer Parker. “Together we intend to develop a mobile app that will enhance public education of ocean health and sustainability. The app will be based on OpenLab’s Blue Trail: Oceanic Scales project that has involved over 35 UCSC students working across the disciplines of art, computer science, ocean science, gaming, and engineering. This is a wonderful opportunity for UCSC students to gain industry experience and real-world knowledge. I’m hopeful that our partnership between the public and private sector will be an example of new collaborative visions for environmental initiatives that could one day become the norm.”
An all-encompassing global marketing company, Epsilon is a leader in creating connections between people and brands by fusing data, insights, technology and creative to connect with clients’ customers in the moments that matter to get results for clients’ brands.
The first of its kind in the world, Blue Trail, which began in 2012, is a collaboration between Jennifer Parker and Lisa Zimmerman, founder of the San Francisco-based public art consulting firm, 7Story. OpenLab is a Research Center UCSC founded by Professors Jennifer Parker and Enrico Rameriz-Ruiz, and part of UCSC’s Arts Division. The Center targets complex education issues of national significance regarding the ability of art and science researchers to collaborate on research endeavors. The goal of the OpenLab is to help change the current status by providing shared research facilities and create a network for collaborative discourse fueled by academic communities, arts and science communities, and industry.
Art + Biosensors + Audiences
This project aims to provide an assessment of wearable biosensors through:
• interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange
• artistic interpretation
• public engagement and deliberation.
Commissioning an art project that engages biosensors brings these approaches into play. The term biosensor has a wide discursive range including the sensing of bodily information from location and movement to chemical detection of blood sugar and heart rate. The term intersects with that of biometrics (measurements of the body), which could also include facial recognition, body temperature and perspiration levels. Biometrics have been cast as impersonal surveillance technologies with the potential to exploit in terms of public understanding (Technolife report), and as securities research in terms of innovation. They have also come under criticism for the way in which they objectify bodies and reduce understandings of the body to a limited set of biometric indexes (Magnet, 2011). Levels of belief in biometrics as a security ritual are high and the market in biometrics has become economically successful on this basis (Magnet, 2011). If biometrics measure bodily signals, biosensors sense them. This sensory connotation helps us to understand biosensing as a more intimate project. Although there is an intersection between the two terms, biosensors have a different trajectory. Biosensors are imagined not as impersonal and institutional but as personal and are part of the personal turn in biomedicine and other areas. Biosensors are imagined as a potentially personal communication system where signals about the body are relayed to the source. They may link individuals to databases and aggregate or big data, and a health care provider or remote clinician can also be part of the imagined circuit but they are not integral to it. Biosensors are part of a high tech imaginary that combines complex systems with personal data generation and self-monitoring. They have also been actualized as leisure devices (blurring the boundaries between leisure and health) care in some cases (e.g. FitBit).
The second LAST:
The LAST festival is a symposium and expo that celebrates the confluence of art with the multiplicity of new media technologies and nascent sciences emerging from the intense cultural ecosystem of the Bay Area.
This October LAST will feature talks by some of the worlds leading innovators, and host fascinating interactive art installations that break the “Do not touch!” taboo of traditional museums. Saturday’s speakers will include world experts on Neuroscience, Nanotech, Infectious Diseases/Ebola, Space Exploration, Artificial Intelligence.
2948 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
The LAST festival will be in San Francisco at The Lab on October 23-26, 2014. This event coincides with the Bay Area Science Festival and includes Saturday’s symposium on the science that is shaping the 21st century. This free symposium will be a full event so register to be sure you get a seat.
This event it free and open to the public.
Featured Artists: Emily Martinez, Adam Carlin, Erich Richter, Peter Foucault, SonicSENSE: Jennifer Parker & Barney Haynes, UCSC OpenLab: Sean McGowen, Ian Ayyad, Richard Vallejos, Joel Horne, Gene A. Felice II, & David Kant, Carlos Castellanos