Why Art Matters
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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.