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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
From Murphy Hall
The Next Wave
How “Human” Are We?
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From Distant Days
In Their Own Words
ACT II
Why Art Matters
Wild Wilde West
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Fall 2004
Why Art Matters
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The character of Ah Q is an Everyman in the worst sense of the word. He is stubborn, deceitful, self-important and vain. The story as reinterpreted by Marks and Xu Ying is a dialog across cultural boundaries about the tendency of human beings, and by extension entire communities or nations, to overemphasize their own importance and in the end to become self-centered, even xenophobic. The process of shaping and producing the work was complemented by courses on Chinese opera, dance, music and literature taught by guest artists and by faculty in East Asian Studies. The Ah Q! artistic team also took part in public events that connected them to Los Angeles’ Asian and Asian-American communities. A second cast, made up exclusively of students, performed their own version of Ah Q! as part of the department’s Repertory Tour Ensemble course, taking the work out to local public schools.

For me, Ah Q! illustrates not only the value of interdisciplinary collaboration among artists of varying cultural backgrounds, and between the arts and humanities, but also the value of the arts as a research methodology in international studies and as a creative framework for establishing collaboration across national boundaries.

A different sort of interdisciplinary project is represented by NANO, which in September concluded a nine-month-long exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s LACMALab. UCLA professors Victoria Vesna of Design | Media Arts, Jim Gimzewski of chemistry and Katherine Hayles of English teamed up with graduate and undergraduate students to create an interactive exhibition that immerses visitors in a media-arts experience of the convergence of computing, molecular biology and nanoscience. In the exhibition the science of the nanoworld — a level of organization of the universe impossible to experience directly with our present technology — has been interpreted by artists and designers to convey a visceral and intuitive understanding that is difficult, if not impossible, to express by more conventional means.

The various components of the exhibition are designed to involve the visitor in the radical shifts of scale and sensory mode that characterize nanoscience. Participants are invited to enter a giant cell and to interact with molecules. A reactive floor that mimics the structure of graphite changes form and creates “gravity waves” as visitors move across it. Quotations from novelists and scientists appear throughout the exhibition, offering insight into how nanoscience is being imagined by different creative minds. NANO is a compelling example of potential synergies between the arts and the physical sciences.

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