Sunday, July 24, 2016

Event #2: Parkeology

For my second museum visit (which took place right after my first one, because I’m a two birds, one stone kind of girl), I went to the San Diego Art Institute’s main gallery in Balboa Park, where they were housing their Parkeology Exhibition. It is basically an exploration of the senses and stories surrounding local urban parks and includes work from many local artists. Works are neither named nor authored (meaning most are public artifacts) as they are displayed on the walls but are explained on paper floor plans of the exhibit.

Introduction to the exhibition pasted on the wall above copies of a floor plan of the whole room

Near the introductory sign, tucked in a corner near exit doors, was a tree stump and old computer sitting next to each other. I’m not quite sure if this was an artistic piece or a poor attempt at storage, but I was intrigued by the contrast of these two pieces against each other.

Part of the exhibit or just trash?

There were 5 video stations placed along the walls that showed looping videos centered around different subjects. The one I’m watching below focused on the mechanics of trains. It reminded me of the Industrial Era, which started with steam train engines and continued through to Ford’s auto revolution.

Me watching Parkeology Session I: Untracked: Beneath the Scenes 
at the San Diego Miniature Model Railroad Museum, Ren Ebel

Another sort of instance of the contrast between the natural and the mechanical I came across was with the placement of a cardboard robot in front of a nudist colony sign. I was again reminded of the robotics unit. It makes me think about the transition from humans to cyborgs and question what the new normal will be when it comes to our appearance.

Zoro Gardens Sign: Warning notice erected upon police recommendation

The last piece that stuck out to me was a large heap of cloth that hung suspended from the ceiling. The name/creator of this piece was also unclear to me from the floor plan, but I thought it spoke volumes about hoarding and waste culture. It looks like it also took a little bit of physics computations to safely and securely suspend such a heavy load in the air.

Me under the giant heap of hanging clothes

The SDAI is a pretty unique place for art and I highly recommend seeing the Parkeology exhibit, or the next thing that these artists come up with. The use of science and technology to support their art and social commentary sets the pace for a future of collaboration between the fields. I suspect the next exhibit will be equally as interesting! 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Final Fronteir...of Art

I thought it very appropriate that we would end our study of the intersections of art, science, and technology with an exploration of space. It certainly ties in what we’ve learned about math, robotics, and nanotech. Hubble space voyages continue to go deeper and deeper (that is, further and further away) into space, and it is often thought of as the final frontier of scientific discovery [1]. While much of what we learned could contest the idea that scientific discovery is limited here on Earth, space does seem the most vast area of exploration, at least to me.

Space…it doesn’t have to be your final frontier!

I especially like what artists are doing with zero-gravity technology. Frank Pietronigro was the first American artist to experiment with this by creating acrylic paintings in mid-air [2]. He goes on parabolic flights, which experience 20-25 second periods of weightlessness, and creates his art during this time. Below is a photo taken during one such flight.

“Drift Painting,” Frank Pietronigro

There are also performance artists and dancers who choreograph in zero-gravity. The video below is from a TED talk live performance of a "zero-gravity" dance. While it is not actually assisted by zero-gravity technology, the inspiration is the same.

What was really interesting to me was when I found out more about Alan Bean. Bean was aboard Apollo 12, and walked on the moon in 1969 [3]. Surprisingly (or maybe not that surprisingly, given the combination artists/scientists we’ve learned about this course), Bean shortly retired from being an astronaut and focused on painting thereafter. He creates powerful images that portray the amazement of moon exploration, and they inspire further exploration of space.

“The American,” Alan Bean

The last thing that stuck out to me during this wrap-up of the course was the Eameses’ Powers of 10 video [4]. As a mathematical person, I enjoy giving perspective in the form of numbers to things that can be too vast or minuscule to logically visualize. I will definitely be following the powers of 10 blog [5] from now on!

Screen caps from “Powers of 10” by the Eameses


[1] Jager, Mathias. "Space... the Final Frontier." Hubble Space Telescope, 21 July 2016. Web. 24 July 2016.

[2] Woods, Arthur. "Performance Art In Zero-G." Ars Astronautica. N.p., 2008. Web. 24 July 2016.

[3] Foust, Jeff. "When Space and Art Intersect." The Space Review. Space News, 8 Sept. 2009. Web. 24 July 2016.

[4] "POWERS OF TEN AND THE RELATIVE SIZE OF THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE." Eames Official Site. Eames Office, 2013. Web. 24 July 2016.

[5] Powers of Ten Blog. Eames Office, n.d. Web. 24 July 2016.


Being of the doctrine “I’ll see it when I believe it,” it’s generally been hard for me to conceptualize nanoparticles and nanotechnology. I was amazed to learn that scientists, with their state-of-the-art microscopes, don’t see these small pieces of matter, but rather sense them. It takes an amazing amount of confidence in the science – and maybe a small leap of faith – to trust their senses in this way. As Professor Vesna said, regarding UCLA’s “nano” exhibit from 2003, “this new science is about a shift in our perception of reality from a purely visual culture to one based on sensing and connectivity” [1].

This class is built on the theme that art and science interact and influence each other. It is in fields like this where science is the art. Images like the magnetic nanotubes below are nothing more than results of a physics lab experiment, but they look like much more from an artistic point of view.

Magnetic Nanotubes, Ed Simpson, Yasuhiko Hayashi, Takeshi Kasama and Rafal Dunin-Borkowski 

I may have a huge fear of bees, but I think the development of nanobees for medicine is a promising step in nanotechnology [2]. Ray Kurzweil gave a TED talk (below) about the inevitability of the rapid acceleration of such technology, and I am very excited to see what comes in the near future.

I found an artist, Jonty Hurwitz, who is creating nanosculptures to raise awareness for humanitary issues. Below is his elephant sculpture, which calls to attention the killing of over 100,000 elephants in 3 years by ivory poachers [3].

Fragile Giant, Jonty Hurwitz, 2015

Perhaps a more light-hearted application of nanotechnology is the creation of images like the one below. Recreating objects we plainly see with nanoparticles “meld microengineering with aesthetics” (Lilley, NOVA) and can de-mystify the workings of nanoscience and is an important communicative tool between scientists, artists, and the general public [4].

“Spaghetti and meatballs?” 
Courtesy Blythe G. Clark, Sandia National Lab, and Dan Gianola Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe GmbH

Other universities, like Cornell, are taking initiative to develop nanoart [5]. I hope this points to a future increase in collaboration between art and science in academia.


[1] Lovgren, Stefan. "Can Art Make Nanotechnology Easier to Understand?" National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 23 Dec. 2003. Web. 24 July 2016.

[2] "Making Stuff: Smaller." NOVA. PBS, 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 24 July 2016.

[3] Hurwitz, Jonty. "Nano Sculpture." Art of Jonty Hurwitz. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016.

[4] Lilley, Maiken. "The Art of Nanotech." NOVA. PBS, 18 Nov. 2010. Web. 24 July 2016.

[5] Aloi, Daniel. "2014 Biennial to Explore Nanotech as Artistic Medium." Cornell Chronicle. Cornell University, 5 Dec. 2013. Web. 24 July 2016.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Event #1: Beauty and the Beast

Last weekend, for my first event, I went to the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) in Balboa Park, San Diego. Their center exhibit was The Beauty and The Beast: The Animal in Photography. Basically, it was a collection of portraits of animals – many of which reminded me of the medicine unit from class – in celebration of the San Diego Zoo Centennial.

Beauty and the Beast: The Animal on Photography exhibit

One of the first pieces I saw was of a preserved human muscle skeleton (much like those in the Body Worlds exhibit) among encased animal bone skeletons of various species typically found in a zoo. It made me question why Gunther von Hagens’ body-preserving technique was only used on the human while the animals where simple skeletons. The piece seems to contrast humanity against other living organisms by putting the human body at the forefront of the animals and highlighting it with blood red muscle against tan animal bone. I think the photograph reinforces amazement at all living body structures while reinforcing our own human dominance.

Flayed Man (2005), Richard Barnes

Another cool piece was of a fully preserved alligator (or crocodile, I don’t know the difference) in what looks like a taxidermy office. Again, I was reminded of the practice of body-preserving we went over in the medicine unit.

Me with the alligator/crocodile

One of my favorite pieces, however, connected more so to the math unit. In one corner of the exhibit there were two small photos of reptilian skeletons, alongside a pair of blocky, wooden glasses. Intrigued, I put them on, and when I looked at the photos, what I had previously seen as two 2D identical skeletons now appeared as one 3D skeleton. I read up a little bit on these glasses (actually called stereoscopes) and found out that these were the foundation for 3D technology. It’s pretty cool to imagine that over a century ago, people would use these to visualize scientific and mathematical models.

Me and Animal Kingdon Reino Animal (2014), Jim Naughten

I would really recommend seeing this exhibit if you have the chance. Beyond the types of photos I included in this blog, there was also a nighttime section, which, fitting to its name, had dimmed lighting and didn’t allow flash photography. I found these night scenes very beautiful and inspiring. There was also a small niche of interactive objects, including a mirror that recreates your portrait using other people’s faces as pixels. I got a big sense of connectivity seeing myself as a composite image of other human beings.

Me and my mom through Self-Reflection

Butterflies in the Brain

I remember being introduced to Franz Joseph Gall and phrenology in my high school psychology class, but it was only a blip in the lesson and was immediately written off as a pseudo-science. It was enlightening to learn about his discovery of axons and neurons in white and grey brain matter, respectively [1]. Santiago Ramon y Cajal furthered Gall’s neuron discovery with Neuron Theory, a fundamental part of neuroscience today.

Cajal’s Butterflies of the Soul 

The most interesting thing about this unit to me was the theme of butterflies that seems to tie together a lot of artists who work with neuroscience. Beginning with Ramon y Cajal and his book Butterflies of the Soul, scientists and artists have been drawing connections between butterflies and the brain for decades [2].

Cajal himself was a very artistic man and believed that scientists were innately artists as well. He produced many detailed drawings of the neuron structures he discovered [3]. In this way, Cajal was a conduit of communication between art and science during his time.

One of Cajal’s neuron drawings

Suzanne Anker is another artist who likened butterflies to the brain. She superimposed butterfly wings on MRI brain scans [4]. She used the same butterfly in each picture, but each looks different because of the way they were mapped onto the brain. It speaks to the difference in perception we have as humans, and her artwork makes me appreciate the beauty and complexity of the human brain, and I am in awe of how our brains function.

MRI Butterfly (8), Suzanne Anker

The other thing that stuck out to me this unit was LSD and the 60s counter-culture. I wasn’t aware that esteemed academics like Dr. Leary and his psychology grad students were experimenting with LSD in the name of art and science, and I did not expect him to get fired and imprisoned for his actions [5]. It’s not new for artists to be met with backlash for their work sometimes, but I find it less common for something that both artists and scientists find common ground on to be so opposed by society. LSD to this day is controversial in its use, and it concerns me that this branch of art is hindered by the laws in place. While I understand the need for these laws, I still find it a shame that this segment of neuroscience art is very limited due to the laws.



[1] Mangels, Jennifer. "History of Neuroscience." Psychology 1010: Mind, Brain and Behavior. Columbia University, 2003. Web. 17 July 2016.

[2] Bentivoglio, Marina. "Life and Discoveries of Santiago Ramón Y Cajal.", 20 Apr. 1998. Web. 17 July 2016.

[3] Costandi, Mo. "Unusual Varieties of Soul Butterflies." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 July 2016.

[4] Anker, Suzanne. "Bio Art - Suzanne Anker." Suzanne Anker. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.

[5] Vesna, Victoria. Neuroscience Lecture Part 3. Video. 16 July 2016.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Confessions of a Former Bio-Art Skeptic

I must be behind on my clichés, because I had only recently heard the phrase “art imitates life.” I didn’t give much thought to this saying at the time, but this unit on biotech and art brings it to new relevance for me. Perhaps for most of the history of art, this was true. But with the prevalence of genetic technology, art has a new role, not just to imitate life, but to create it as well.

I remember in the first unit on two cultures, we read an article from 2000 by Stephen Wilson that talks about the intersections of art, science, and technology. He expanded on genetic engineering as an example and proposed that “perhaps artists could produce useful or interesting modified organisms for reasons other than commercial profit” [1]. At the time, I mentally scoffed at the idea and could never imagine that such creatures had come into existence that very year.  Alba, the “GFP bunny” modified by Eduardo Kac was an artistic tool that was meant to promote dialogue among many disciplines about the creation of life [2]. 

Alba, Eduardo Kac’s fluorescent bunny (passed away in 2002)

I must admit that when I read Wilson’s article, I was not only doubtful but also concerned about artists using modified organism in their work. However, learning about artists like Kac and Kathy High – who rescued “retired” transgenic mice as part of her work [3] – gives me more confidence that genetic biotechnology is in good hands with artists, perhaps more so than with scientists.


Kathy High with a transgenic rat

To me, the overarching message when it comes to bio-art is to question what we consider life, and I think this is a very important message to communicate about with the science world. Mirroring Ellen Levy’s conclusion in her paper on defining life in art, this question will likely become more important as the technology grows [4]. It seems like only a matter of time before the genetic technology used on animals to maximize their utility will become a norm for humans.

Other forms of bio-art, like Edward Steichen’s genetically modified flowers [5], also raise similar questions about life, but their processes and outcomes are much less controversial. Perhaps that raises more questions about life, such as why humans are much more protective over organisms that move over those that don’t.

Edward Steichen with delphiniums (c. 1938)

Ending on my primary note of genetically modified animals, I recently read a dystopian novel by Kat Falls called Inhuman [6]. Its premise is that an overzealous zoo owner started created hybrid animals, and after some unfortunate raids by animal activists, these hybrids became loose and started infecting humans, resulting in human hybrid species. It’s an interesting concept (and perhaps not that bizarre given what I’ve learned this unit), and the book itself dealt with some themes about the disparity between human and animal treatment. I’m looking forward to the sequel!


[1] Wilson, Stephen D. “Myths and Confusions in Thinking about Art/Science/Technology.” College Art Association Meetings. New York, New York, 2000. Print.

Kac, Eduardo. "GFP BUNNY." KAC. N.p., 2000. Web. 16 July 2016.


[3] High, Kathy. "How Did Matilda, Tara and Star Barbie Become Transgenic Rats?" Embracing Animal. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2016.

[4] Levy, Ellen. “Defining Life: Artists Challenge Conventional Classifications.”Context Providers: Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts. Eds. Margot Lovejoy, Christiane Paul, and Victoria Vesna. University of Chicago Press: 2011.

Hartmann, Celia. "Edward Steichen Archive: Delphiniums Blue (and White and Pink, Too)." InsideOut. MoMA, 8 Mar. 2011. Web. 16 July 2016.


[6] Falls, Kat. Inhuman. Toulouse: Milan, 2015. Print.