Sunday, July 24, 2016

Week 5: Space + Art

To me, space contains infinite wonders and beauty. The moment when humans first pointed a telescope to the sky is as significant as the moment when humans first looked through a microscope. The space, just like the nano scale world, is a whole new frontier of human reality that both scientist and artists strive to understand and work with. 

Humans are now closer to space than we ever were. The Falcon 9 rocket developed by spaceX can be launched into space and returning to earth, landing itself. It performed a successful landing on ground last December and it performed a successful landing onto a drone ship this April. The sight of a rocket slowly and steadily descending and landing itself is a sight that is probably beyond imagination years ago, yet it is possible now. 

As we move further and further along space exploration, space has inspired a great number of artworks. There is even a specific genre of art called “Space Art” that strives to show the wonder of the universe. One of the pioneers of space art is Chesley Bonestell. He often painted artworks that accurately depicts alien places. His art could be categorized as descriptive realism and it opened people’s eyes to what the space could look like, while most people would never get a chance to see it for themselves. When most of space is dark, art gives space light and color, and prompt the public’s curiosity towards space exploration. 

"Exploring Mars" by Chesley Bonestell

Space has become a heated topic in popular art as well, especially in the film industry in recent years. Both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchise are continuing to be well received. Recent hits like “Gravity”, “Interstellar” and “Martian” all dealt with space travel. I have noticed an interesting phenomena amongst these artworks: a common theme in the artistic representations of space exploration seem to be fear. It is logical, since space is filled with darkness and unknown. David Bowie’s popular song “Space Oddity” is about a fictional astronaut “Major Tom” who experienced a spaceship malfunctioning. Another classic example is the episode “I Shot an Arrow into the Air” from the TV show “The Twilight Zone”. It tells the story of how orders break down between three crewmen who think their spaceship crashed on an unknown planet, but in fact they are still on earth. 

Shots from the episode of Twilight Zone - "I Shot and Arrow into the Air"
It is definitely worth contemplating the way art is depicting space exploration. Regardless, it is undeniable that we will continue to expand our knowledge about space, and with that, more artworks will appear. 

  1. "ABOUT CHESLEY BONESTELL." Bonestell - Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <>
  2. "Falcon 9." SpaceX. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <>
  3. "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air." The Twilight Zone Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <>
  4. Vesna, Victoria. “Space Part 5" YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>
  5. Vesna, Victoria. “Space Part 6" YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>

  1. Jonnydowe123. "SpaceX Falcon 9 - Successful Drone Ship Landing - 8th April 2016." YouTube. YouTube, 2016. Web. 24 July 2016. <>
  2. “EXPLORING MARS." Bonestell - Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <>
  3. "The Twilight Zone - I Shot an Arrow into the Air." IMDb., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <>

Week 5: NanoTech + Art

At first, I thought the concept of nanotechnology would be foreign to me since I have never taken any classes or read any books that directly addresses "nanotechnology". After watching the lectures of this week, I realized that I have dealt with concepts in nanotechnology as it is a subject area that spans many scientific fields like physics, chemistry, biology and material science. 

To me, nanotechnology feels like a whole new level of reality that became visible and accessible to the human race since the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope. It no doubt has revolutionized science. As a chemistry students, we usually visualize molecules as sticks and beads, but nanotechnology allows us to actually "see" the molecule. It plays a huge role in visualization of nanoparticles. 

Olympic gold
Five interlocking benzene rings
Nanotechnology offered artists a whole new level of platform to work on. Nano Mandala is a piece of artwork created by Professor Vesna and James Gimszewkski. It features images projected on a disk of sand that can be touched by viewers. The image is of a single grain of sand that get zoomed into the nano scale and back. In this week’s reading, it was pointed out that our minds would cut short while dealing with the nano scale simply because it is too abstract from our everyday experience. Vesna and Gimsewkski’s work combines the visual and tactile sense in order to put the experience of diving into the nano scale into perspective that can be understood by most of the audience. 

Nanotechnology also shed new light into some of the principle components of art like colors. In the lecture, one example is an ancient cup that appear to have different colors when illuminated from the outside and the inside. Furthermore, the lecture mentioned that black materials are not black at the nanoscale. The color of the particle can be tuned at the nanoscale according to their size and only their size. So it is possible for identical materials to have different color. Apparently nanotechnology is also able to revolutionize the way we perceive art. 
Absorption spectrum of gold nanoparticles
Nanotechnology has a wide variety of applications in our lives now, offering us with new materials and new ways to deliver drugs. It is important that we proceed cautiously while dealing with nanotechnology in the context of both art and science since we are not clear what harmful effects certain nanoparticles may contain. Either way, art has become a great platform for the public to understand nanotechnology. 

  1. "Art in the Age of Nanotechnology." Art.Base. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <>
  2. "The Nanomeme Syndrome: Blurring of Fact & Fiction in the Construction of a New Science." N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016.<>
  3. Vesna, Victoria. "Nanotech for Artists Part 2 - Dr. Gimzewski" YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.
  4. Vesna, Victoria. "Nanotech for Artists Part 4 - Dr. Gimzewski" YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.<>
  5. Vesna, Victoria. "Nanotech for Artists Part 6 - Dr. Gimzewski" YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>

  1. "Color Engineering." NanoComposix. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016.<>
  2. ”Molecules Revealed in All Their Glory by Microscope." N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <
  3. Vesna, Victoria. “Nano Mandala" YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>

Event 2: LACMA and the Rain Room

Earlier this week, I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This was my second visit there and this time I was able to get tickets for the Rain Room exhibit. 

The Rain Room is an immersive art created by Random International. It is a room full of falling water that can stop when it detects a human body. It can create the experience of rain falling around you but not on you. Random International aims to use science and technology to challenge the human experience. 

Proof of attendance 1
It was not a very big exhibit so 15 minutes was sufficient to experience the Rain Room. The experience was very immersive indeed. I can feel how it challenges our normal experience when I step into the falling water and yet did not get soaking wet. The environment of this exhibit helps the viewer to focus on their physical experience as well. The sound of the falling water and the dim lighting in the room helps the viewer to reach an almost meditative state. 

Proof of attendance 2

The Rain Room is an obvious example of how science and technology help artist create art. One of artist's goals is always to enhance and transform the viewer's experience. Sometimes, it is hard to go beyond our everyday experience without the help of technology. The use of technology to help viewer have transcending experience is definitely becoming more and more common among artists. 

The Rain Room
Another artwork that has left a strong impression for me is called Metropolis II. It is a kinetic sculpture illustrating a fast paced, modern city with model cars and trains circulating the multiple roadways at high speed. Though the exhibit is not in action this time, I've seen it in action the last time I visited LACMA. This miniature representation of a busy 21st century metropolis with intricate pathways really fascinates me. When it was in action, the entire space was filled with the deafening noise of hundreds of model cars; an apt representation of the various noises we hear everyday in the big city. Now that we live in a society that depends heavily on science, many of our experiences are sculpted by technologies and machines; therefore, there is no way to artistically represent this experience without using a little mechanical creations. I feel that since science is integrated so strongly into our lives, arts would inevitably incorporate more science related components since it is based on the human experience. 

Metropolis II
I would definitely recommend LACMA to my classmates; it carries a wide variety of artworks and it have a lot of interesting temporary exhibitions as well. The Rain Room was definitely worth a visit as well if you can secure a ticket. 

Event 1: Getty Museum and the Cave Temples of Dunhuang

Earlier this month I went to the Getty Museum. It was my first visit to the museum and I was particularly interested in the Cave Temples of Dunhuang special exhibition. It was an amazing experience. The museum offered a huge variety of artworks on top of its wonderful location outlooking the mountains and LA city.

Proof of Attendance 1: me posing as the sculpture "Air"

The museum is located on the hilltop, so visitors need to take a tram to get to the top. All the structures related to the museum is in white, including the tram and the tram station. It gives a modernized atmosphere to the museum.

Gorgeous view of the architecture and LA city. (Notice the square tiles are all of the same size)

I joined the architecture tour of the museum. A few things about the museum's architecture caught my attention and allowed me to have more thoughts about the relationship between art, science and technology. All the stones and other materials making the outer wall of the museum, and the floor tiles, are 3 feet x 3 feet in size. Even the bushes are cut into cubes with 3 feet long sides. The tour guide explained that 3 feet is chosen in particular because it is a comfortable social distance, according to studies. This way the outlook of the museum would seem more welcoming to its visitors. It is a good example of how artists use social science and psychology to subtly alter view's perception of their work. Also , there were two rifts in the mountains originally, which were used by the architect to orient the museum. Now the rifts become the tram rail and a major pathway of the museum. The geology of the location allow the museum to be built safely and oriented in a natural way. The field of architecture is an epitome of the collaboration of art and science.

Proof of attendance 2: ticket to the special exhibit

I was particularly interested in the special exhibit on the cave temples because I always wanted to visit the original caves in Dunhuang but have never gotten a chance to do so. I was really impressed by the replica caves. The replication was so well done that I almost lost the sense that it was only a replica. This prompt me to remember the reading we did in the unit of Robotics + Art. Walter Benjamin claimed that mechanical reproduction of art "destroys the idea of uniqueness or authenticity in art". However, this is not what I experienced during the visit. Even though the caves are replicas, I can still feel the "aura" of the original cave paintings.

Inside the replica caves. 

In this case, I believe that technology has a huge role in preserving the "aura" in artworks and also allowing more people with no access to the original artwork to experience the "aura" through high quality replications. In other words, technology does not destroy the artwork. On the contrary, technology allows artworks to be vividly alive to more people, extending and expanding the artwork's "life" by replicating it for more people to see.

To sum up, this was a very rewarding experience and I definitely recommend my classmates to go to the Getty Museum and check out this special exhibit, since the original caves are thousands of miles away in China.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Week 4: Neuroscience + Art

The human brain has always struck me as an organ of true beauty. In this week’s lecture, Professor Vesna focused on Ramon y Cajal, who contributed greatly towards our understanding of brain anatomy and neurons. During his research of neurons, he made a lot of original slides and drawing of various neurons that has great scientific as well as artistic values. 

Cajal's drawing of a retinal neuron

Since the brain is so integral to our existence and yet its structure so complex, the representation of the brain has sparked the creativity of both scientists and artists. In April 2016, a unique representation of the brain made it to the cover of Nature. The cover belonged to a research project that mapped out a “brain dictionary”. The project used fMRI to show the organization of the semantic system which represents the meaning of language in the brain. 

The issue of Nature covering the research of a brain "dictionary"

Artists have different opinions on the visualization of the brain. Suzanne Anker’s work “MRI butterfly” uses fMRI scans superimposed with butterfly to create an optical illusion. The brain can capture the attention of both artists and scientists because it “reveal aspects of our individuality”, according to the article “Neuroculture”. It is fascinating how one single structure makes us so different from everyone else, just like how the MRI scans make the identical butterfly look somehow different from each other. 

Professor Vesna also focused on the topic of drugs. The mind altering effects of drugs like LSD has often become a source of inspiration for artists. It was believed by some people that famous children’s tale “Alice in Wonderland” could be created by the author Lewis Carroll under the influence of drugs. Although it is just a rumor, the claim is not based on nothing. In the book, the protagonist Alice undergoes a series of bazaar experiences like becoming larger or smaller after drinking potions and eating “magic” mushrooms, and encountering a smoking caterpillar. It is definitely true that the state of the mind affects art creation greatly. 
Fan art of what Alice in Wonderland looks like under the influence of drugs

1. Huth, Alexander G., Wendy A. De Heer, Thomas L. Griffiths, Frédéric E. Theunissen, and Jack L. Gallant. "Natural Speech Reveals the Semantic Maps That Tile Human Cerebral Cortex." Nature 532.7600 (2016): 453-58. Web.
2. Frazzetto, Giovanni, and Suzanne Anker. "Neuroculture." Nature Reviews Neuroscience Nat Rev Neurosci 10.11 (2009): 815-21. Web.
3. "Is Alice in Wonderland Really about Drugs?" BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016. <>
4. Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience + Art- Lectures part I." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.
5. Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience + Art- Lectures part III." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.

"Drawing of a Retinal Neuron by Ramón Y Cajal." Pinterest. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
2. "Volume 532 Number 7600." Nature Publishing Group, n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
3. "Alice in Wonderland." Pinterest. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016. <>

Week 4: BioTech + Art

A little bit more than 20 years ago, the first cloned mammal “Dolly the sheep” was born. It marked an important milestone for our abilities of genetic manipulation. A few years ago, scientists have also claimed that they are extremely close to cloning woolly mammoth, an already extinct animal, using gene sequencing. Our progress in biotechnology is nothing short of astonishing, and genetic modification has become a powerful tool in both art and science. 

Dolly face closeup.jpg
Dolly the sheep

Genetic modification and animal research goes hand in hand in science. I have worked with mice with a genome coding for a certain neurotransmitter transporter knocked out to in order to study the effect of this neurotransmitter circuit in human. While animal right activists would argue otherwise, mice (and other experimental animals) serve as great models for humans and have enormous contribution to biological science advancements, potentially saving millions of people from various diseases. 

Lab mice from the laboratory I work with. 

Eduardo Kac uses transgenic techniques to create his artwork “GFP Bunny”. It is worth noting that GFP (green fluorescence protein) is also widely used in fluorescence microscopy in scientific research. Kac claimed this piece of artwork represents a dialogue between art and science, and raises awareness towards transgenic animals that does not actually exist in nature. The concept of a “chimerical” animal is definitely novel. The GFP bunny itself is an epitome of human creativity and has proven life to be a valid expressive medium. I think the creation of this piece of artwork is also a successful scientific experiment and has its own scientific value as well as its artistic ones. 

Another artist Kathy High creates the project “embracing animal," trying to extend the life of retired breeder mice by treating them holistically. While this project raised awareness towards animal treatment, I don’t believe it can be applied widely. A lot of animal breeders have certain genome removed that give them certain deficits. Extending these animal’s life might be putting them in more unnecessary pain. 

I think both art and science should proceed cautiously with the powerful tools at hand. With the advancement of science we can practically “play God”. The scientific community already have a stringent guideline with regard to the use of genetic techniques and animal experimentation and I feel the artistic community definitely need one appropriate to its contribution and values as well. 

At last I would like to recommend a movie called “Gattaca”. It is a science fiction movie in 1997 and the future that it depicted is within reach. With the great power we have at hand, we have greater ethical responsibilities and is in need of more comprehensive guidelines to guide our scientific research and artistic creations. 

Gattaca (1997)
1. "GFP BUNNY." GFP BUNNY. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.

2. "The Politics of Empathy." Embracing Animal. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
3. "Woolly Mammoth Clones Closer Than Ever, Thanks to Genome Sequencing." LiveScience. TechMedia Network, n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
4. Vesna, Victoria. "BioTech + Art- Lectures part I." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.5. Vesna, Victoria. "BioTech + Art- Lectures part III." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.

1. "Dolly (sheep)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
2. Photo taken by my coworker in lab. 
3. "Gattaca (1997)." IMDb., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Week 2: Medicine + Technology + Art

Life is as beautiful as it is intriguing. The most common connection between medicine and art lies in the study of the fabrics of human anatomy. I have heard of the Visible Human Project before and it reminded me of a similar project by UC San Diego to study the brain of a famous patient HM. The amnesiac patient’s brain was sliced into approximately 2,500 slices and reconstructed into a digital map online. Although the purpose of this project was largely scientific, it exhibits a new way of looking our bodies closely that was made possible by science. 

Orlan’s work opened my eyes towards the obvious connection of plastic surgery to art and the notion of beauty. Although her work is too graphic for my taste, she does draw our attention towards the act of performing plastic surgery to change our looks. It prompts me to think: with the powerful tool of medical technology, how can we treat our body responsibly? And what is true beauty? Does a universal standard of beauty even exist or is it constantly changing? Will we ever be satisfied with our bodies? The animation below illustrates the concern over the use of plastic surgery. 

Donald Ingber’s article finds beauty in the intercellular world. It is truly fascinating to see architecture at work on such a small scale. This again shows the subtle connection between art and science that art sometimes is an elaborate display of nature. In the popular animation “The Inner Life of the Cell”, we can see how exactly these cytoskeletal systems are at work. 

A large portion of the lecture was dedicated to examples of how artists use medical technology to alter and even enhance their bodies to become “cyborgs”. They offered artists new medium of artistic performance and provoked the public to think about the implications of these technological advancements. In fact, becoming a cyborg is possible these days and the technology could benefit a lot of people with physical disabilities. The Japanese has invented a Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) for the lower torso to assist elderly and disabled populations. 

1. Ingber, Donald E. "The Architecture of Life." Scientific American (1998): 48-57. Print.
2. Kain, Debra. "UC San Diego’s ‘Brain Observatory’ to Examine Brain of HM: World’s Most Famous Amnesiac." This Week @ UCSD. N.p., 7 Dec. 2009. Web. 04 July 2016. <>

3. MutleeIsTheAntiGod. "Orlan - Carnal Art (2001) Documentary." YouTube. YouTube, 13 Mar. 2011. Web. 04 July 2016. <>
4. Vesna, Victoria. "Medicine + Technology + Art- Lectures part I." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.
5. Vesna, Victoria. "Medicine + Technology + Art- Lectures part III." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.

1. Autourdeminuit. "SUPERVENUS." YouTube. YouTube, 2016. Web. 04 July 2016. <>
2. Thejapantimes. "Cyberdyne's Robot Suit HAL to Keep People Walking." YouTube. YouTube, 2014. Web. 04 July 2016. <>
3. XVIVOAnimation. "The Inner Life of the Cell." YouTube. YouTube, 2011. Web. 04 July 2016. <>

Week 2: Robotics + Art

Robotics and artificial intelligence has been a heated topic of the scientific and technological world since the defeat of one of the best Go players, Lee Sedol, by an artificial intelligence called AlphaGo. It is not the first time that artificial intelligence has triumphed over human intelligence. IBM’s question answering computer “Watson” has won the popular game show “Jeopardy!” in 2011. 

Robotics essentially arose from human’s attempt to understand ourselves and build something to mimic our thoughts and actions. However, it is inevitable that machine eventually will be capable of doing so much more than human is ever capable of. As mentioned in the lecture, Alan Turing’s machine was key in deciphering German’s enigma, which was practically insolvable to the human brain. Turing also put forth the “Turing Test”. Machines that passed this test would be practically indistinguishable from a human mind. Also, In Professor Kusahara’s lecture she mentioned the aesthetic problem of the “uncanny valley”. How similar to human should the robots look? The process of creating a robot is clearly an artistic one as well. The advancement in robotics and artificial intelligence leads to philosophical discussions like: what makes a human “human”? At what point does a machine become human?

Similar arguments exist in art when it crossed with industrialization and mechanization. Walter Benjamin believed that mechanical reproduction of art, which was made possible by industrialization, “destroys the idea of uniqueness or authenticity in art”. In his writing “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," he stated “the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition”. However, Douglas Davis’s thesis regarding Benjamin’s work argues that the “aura” of uniqueness and originality is now individualized with the replication of art. The viewer of art can now perform with the artist since the distinction between the “original” copy and the “replicated” copies is blurred. I agree with Davis that now with the replication of artwork made simple, the “aura” is no longer a privilege of the original artist but instead resides with individuals. This is especially true now since derivative artworks are so popular and has become a powerful mean of communication. 

Example of a derivative artwork: The Birth of Black Widow

Moving beyond the use to replicate art, mechanization has given artist a brand new medium to create art. Check out this video of a musical instrument created by thousands of marbles. 

1. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin, 2008. Print.
2. Davis, Douglas. “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction (an Evolving Thesis: 1991-1995)”. Leonardo 28.5 (1995): 381–386. Web…
3. Vesna, Victoria. "Robotics + Art- Lectures part I." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.
4. Vesna, Victoria. "Robotics + Art- Lectures part III." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.
5. Vesna, Victoria. "Professor Machiko Kusahara on Japanese Robotics." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <>.

1. IBMLabs. "Watson and the Jeopardy! Challenge." YouTube. YouTube, 06 Nov. 2013. Web. 03 July 2016. <>
2. Wintergatan2000. "Wintergatan - Marble Machine (music Instrument Using 2000 Marbles)." YouTube. YouTube, 01 Mar. 2016. Web. 03 July 2016. <>
3. "The Birth Of Black Widow." Neatorama. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2016. <>