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Art and Science: Opposites Attract


By Claudia Luther

Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM


Created by artist and scientist Rita Blaik

The Art | Sci Center, whose motto is "artists in labs, scientists in studios," also houses a small gallery for exhibition of the products of art/science collaborations.

In one exhibit last year, Exposure, biology postdoc Christina Agapakis grew colonies of microbes in a petri dish and used them as "ink" to stamp other petri dishes, creating 25 distinct "reproductions" of the original. "This made visible the often feared, but absolutely essential, microbe ecologies that make up our world," says Agapakis, who in January was named by Forbes magazine as one of its "30 Under 30: Science and Healthcare" for the second time.

Another past exhibitor is artist Rita Blaik M.S. '10, a doctoral candidate in materials science and engineering. Inspired by her work with recently discovered material properties on the nano/micro scale versus the familiar macro (or large) scale, Blaik's recent photographs play on the idea of deconstructing iconic items, such as a cross, using motion and long exposure.

Blaik, who speaks publicly on bridging the gap between science and art, says that when she tells people she is an artist as well as a scientist, their first question is, "Oh, do you do pretty microscopic images?"

"There are definitely preconceived notions of science and art, and trying to break down this stereotype is always a fun challenge," Blaik says.


Dress by Amisha Gadani

This summer, Blaik and Agapakis will be part of a joint art/science exhibition at Monte Vista Projects in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles. Also part of that show will be Megan Daalder '09, who earned her bachelor's degree from UCLA Design Media Arts, and Amisha Gadani, the artist-in-residence at both the Alfaro Lab at UCLA and at UCLA's Institute for Society and Genetics, where she helps make the work of scientists more accessible to a wider public.

For the show, Gadani will create one of her "defensive dresses," garments of great beauty rigged with hidden defense systems that are activated in the event of a threat. Gadani says she will create a dress inspired by insects like the Io moth, whose coloring, with wings folded, blends into their environment but who, when threatened, spread their wings to expose markings that look like large eye spots — which frightens away some predators by making them think the moth is a much larger animal.

"I like seeing how forms change, depending on the adaptive pressures," Gadani says. "So, over hundreds of thousands of years, environmental pressures or sexual pressures, or the lack of food can alter an animal body shape, evolutionarily speaking."

The Art | Sci Center is just one of the forums for art and science synergy at UCLA. Another of a different kind is REMAP (the Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance), a joint effort of the School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science (HSSEAS).

Jeff Burke '99, M.S. '01, M.F.A. '10, assistant dean for technology and innovation at TFT, a founder of REMAP and co-director of the center, says the center focuses on the use of new and emerging technology in cultural, artistic and storytelling applications, and how those applications can shape or drive technology development. It differs somewhat from the Art | Sci Center, he says, in that rarely is science the actual subject of REMAP's projects.

Fabian Wagmister M.F.A. '91, REMAP's director and lead creator, says the center's work enables people to evaluate their environment through scientific research and then create art based on their findings. "It's a way of understanding yourself through technology."

One example is the Los Angeles State Historic Park downtown, which is currently under way. There, REMAP and TFT are working with California State Parks to find innovative opportunities to use interactive media and advanced technology to engage the community in the park and the city's history.