Jun 022015


OpenLab_Water Waste and Public Space

Graduate student Andrea Steves opens Thursday night’s panel discussion on water, waste and public space at the UC Santa Cruz Digital Arts Research Center. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

SANTA CRUZ >> Underneath the city, snaking unseen through a system of pipes, is a stinky, sticky sludge nobody wants to talk about: human waste.

Until now.

This week, a UC Santa Cruz wastewater research class debuted two public events centered on human waste and how it’s treated. The class led a 5K walk Saturday, attended by around 80, tracing sewage’s route from campus to the treatment facility by Neary Lagoon.

A speaker panel on waste, water and public space was held Thursday at UCSC.

The goal, said Jennifer Parker, associate professor of art, is to spark conversation about the enormous amount of water running through sewers. Parker is head of UCSC’s art department and OpenLab, an interdepartmental collaboration, which both sponsored the events.

OpenLab_Water,Waste_and PublicSpace
Discarded toilets filled with messages about water waste greet visitors to the Digital Arts Research Center at UC Santa Cruz on Thursday. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“We use perfectly clean drinkable water to put our waste in and it’s just that as a primary question — is that the best use of our resources?” Parker said.

The Santa Cruz wastewater treatment facility handles around 10 million gallons of wastewater each day — enough to fill a swimming pool the size of a football field a depth of nearly 50 feet, according to its website. Around half is from Santa Cruz and the rest from Live Oak, Capitola and Aptos.

That’s about 100 gallons of wastewater per person a day, from toilets, showers, washing machines and other domestic sources.

Capitola resident Brenda Livingstone joined the 5K on Saturday looking for exercise, and spent her morning following signs marked with arrows and cartoons of “smiling poop.”

She learned surprising statistics, such as toilets account for 27 percent household wastewater, the largest contributor.

Now she plans to change the way she showers and washes dishes, she said.

“All those little bits help,” said Livingstone.

Digital arts and new media graduate student Andrea Steves, the class’s co-leader, said she’s surprised that waste is not regularly part of discussion on the drought.

“A lot of the time it’s like, ‘Take shorter showers.’ But again, maybe it’s the ‘ick’ factor. People don’t want to talk about poop and people don’t want to talk about flushing the toilet,” Steves said.

Brooklyn, New York-based artist Shawn Shafner was one of four speakers Thursday. He founded the People’s Own Organic Power Project, an art and education sustainable sanitation program.

He began by tracing food’s route through intestines and sphincters, and asking the audience to call out synonyms for “the bodily function that dare not speak its name.”

The goal is to break the taboo, and encourage a shift from thinking of “poop” not as waste, but as a resource.

We don’t have to disassociate from our “poop” and say “That’s not me,” said Shafner.

“It may not be our prettiest part or our best-smelling part, but it is part of us,” he said.

More information about about the project see: http://www.fictilis.com/project/wastewater-walk


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May 182015
The Slugs to Sludge Wastewater 5K is a walk which follows the path of wastewater from the UC-Santa Cruz campus to the Wastewater Treatment Plant at Neary Lagoon. Along the way, participants will learn about the poetics and politics of human waste, and the water required to process it, as they travel through several different hybrid landscapes of wilderness and human infrastructure. The event aims to bring awareness to typically invisible material flows and promote water conservation in a creative, playful way that ties education to lived experience in the physical landscape of Santa Cruz.
All proceeds from the event will benefit Take Back The Tap.
Location: East Remote Parking Lot
Location details: Event begins at East Remote Lot and ends at Neary Lagoon Park.

Registration starts at 9:00 a.m.

Event starts at 9:30 a.m.

Park and meet at East Remote Lot. Course ends at Neary Lagoon Park. Buses run every 30 minutes back to campus.

Admission: Admission Required
Admission details: Pre-registration required via Eventbrite – Early bird registration is free for students!
Sponsored by: Arts DivisionPorter Senate, and OpenLab
Invited Audience: Everyone
Event dates:
05/23/2015 – 9:00am
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May 142015

V e s s e l s

by Pellham Johnston and eve Warnock

Thursday, May 14th, 6-7:45pm, California Academy of Science, San Francisco, CA


Pellham Johnston and eve Warnock help kick off NightLife LIVE this Thursday at California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco with an exhibit in the garden for OpenLab!


In Vessels, water is used to visually and sonically represent biometric data. The visitor’s heart rate is measured by reading blood density in the fingertip, and transposed into a liquid sequence which travels through a tube in the gallery.

This sequence ends as drops onto a resonant steel drum, translating the sequence into sound. The water is collected in a reservoir for recirculation through the system.The visitors see their heart rates visualized in front of them, and can watch the patterns of their hearts as the sequences travel through the tube. This allows for time to reflect on their influences on these rhythms and how these sequences may change with changes in their emotional states.


Details here about NightLight: http://calacade.my/1JVzahE

Vessel Project Infohttps://vimeo.com/127776845

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May 112015


Maker Faire Bay Area 2015



Maker Faire is part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new! As a celebration of the Maker Movement, it’s a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness. Faire gathers together tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, food artisans, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. Makers come to show their creations and share their learnings. Attendees flock to Maker Faire to glimpse the future and find the inspiration to become Makers themselves.

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Apr 062015

SciArt Center Featured Member of the Month


David Harris
Science Communicator, Theoretical Physicist, Digital Artist in UCSC OpenLab and DANM MFA program
Interview with Emma SnodgrasseYour portfolio evidences some seriously impressive polymathy! Can you describe briefly what being a ‘science communicator’ means for you?D: The idea of a science communicator has evolved significantly for me over the past 20 years. In the beginning it was akin to science popularizer or translator, but then as I became a journalist, I started asking slightly harder questions of science the institution. Over time and particularly as I have explored my artistic practice, I have come to much better understand the interaction of science in society and feel that there is room for much better dialogue between science and other parts of society (insofar as you can make distinctions between disciplines).

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?


Still from “Three Body Problem” that references Op Art of the ’60s in a representation of three planets in orbit around each other in a donut-shaped universe. Image courtesy of the artist.

PictureA visitor sets off a sequence of light and sound upon interacting with “Neutrino Flux”. Image courtesy of the artist.

E: Your works combine theory, concept, and function in a uniquely straightforward way, resulting in varied entry points for your aesthetic. What do you see as being the role of aesthetics in your work?D: Aesthetics is a tricky term for those of us who originally trained as theoretical physicists! We had our learning infused with the concept of beauty applied to equations, models, and proofs. But we never really tackled anything beyond beauty. Aesthetics is a concept I’ve become increasingly interested in over time, though. A colleague and I have been talking about running a seminar on physics and aesthetics that explores these concepts in various frames.In terms of my own work, I am far more interested in the concept of the sublime, especially Kant’s mathematical sublime. Science tells us an awful lot about the universe that we can only understand through models and analogies. But over time, scientists manage to internalize a personal set of models and analogies that works for them and they start to believe they see truth. I am somewhat leery of that process and try to stay aware of the fact that so much of science is beyond our direct human experience that we have at best an approximate truth at any particular moment. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue scientific means to better the approximation, however! It does mean that there are other truths we have access to as humans.

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.

PictureCharlie’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.

E: Digital art is a medium that seems particularly useful for the convergence of art and science. What has the role of technology been in shaping sciart for you?   
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.

– See more at: http://www.sciartcenter.org/members.html#sthash.CPnQhMGz.dpuf

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Feb 272015

Roger F. Malina, Carol Strohecker, and Carol LaFayette, on behalf of SEAD network contributors

NSF SEAD Cover titleIn 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. 

PDF (2 MB) | ePub (19 MB)


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Feb 162015

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.

Seeking Symbiosis - Linking Art and Science Exhibition, Environmental Studies Department EVNS (ISB 4th floor in the halls)

Camilly Pereira, UCSC student artwork for Seeking Symbiosis – Linking Art and Science Exhibition, Environmental Studies Department EVNS (ISB 4th floor in the halls)

Seeking Symbiosis - Linking Art and Science Exhibition at UCSC

Han Fangzheng, Seeking Symbiosis – Linking Art and Science Exhibition, Environmental Studies Department EVNS (ISB 4th floor in the halls)

Kevin Chapman, UCSC Student

Kevin Chapman, UCSC Student artwork for Seeking Symbiosis – Linking Art and Science Exhibition, Environmental Studies Department EVNS (ISB 4th floor in the halls)

 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).


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Jan 302015

YBCA presents


with Gene A. Felice II, Kate Spacek, Nathaniel Ober, and Eve Warnock


Eve Warnock pounding metal

Eve Warnock pounding metal dish for water hole

Transflux, an interactive exhibition where the artists transform the Front Door Gallery into a living, breathing organism and symbiotic ecosystem.

Gene Felice II, Co-Active Systems

Gene Felice II, Co-Active Systems

Nathan Ober, Astro Wall Zither & Cymatics Chambers

Nathan Ober, Astro Wall Zither & Cymatics Chambers

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.



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Jan 152015

Steve Trimmer_OpenLab_MAH

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


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