Monday, March 14, 2016

Using Science for Art: How Blowing Up Bacteria and Drawing on Sand Changed M.I.T.

In 2012, M.I.T. created the "Center for Art, Science, & Technology" (CAST) and the findings and scientific art that has come out of that creation is incredible. CAST's attempts to "humanize technology and creative more expansive-thinking scientists" has led to amazing art projects created by M.I.T. scientists that are breaking the stereotype of the boring, left-brained science nerds.

In "Sandcastles", M.I.T. graduate student Marcelo Coelho collaborated with artist Vik Muniz to draw beautifully intricate castles...on a single grain of sand. Coelho had been playing around with sand grains and lasers for a few years to no avail, since the lasers inevitably pulverized the grains, but when he was granted access to the multi-million dollar microscope (with its own set of lasers), he was able to create tiny, tiny drawings of landscapes and castles. Coelho's discovery of the unorthodox use of the microscope for something other than science sent "excitement percolating through the [M.I.T.] system", he said.

Another of Muniz's projects, called "Colonies", was also made via M.I.T. science equipment - this time using pictures of fluorescent bacteria and cancer cells and turning them into creations and images entirely different - for example, a the circuitry of a computer motherboard.

Muniz's collaboration with scientists comes from the fact that "mutually beneficial collaborations take each party [science and art] into new territories in their respective fields...scientists are imaginative yet with such a different focus than 'traditional' artists."

And M.I.T. bioengineer Tal Danino, in collaboration with Muniz and M.I.T. residency artist Anika Yi, explored the concept of "patriarchal fear" when they took 100 samples of female bacteria and let it cultivate and grow random things in a giant petri dish, which Yi used almost as finger paint (with rubber gloves of course!) to create the pieces in her exhibition.

Other M.I.T. science-art collaborations have happened too, such as Tomas Saraceno's work with M.I.T. civil engineer Markus Buehler, in taking Buehler's scientific study of black widow spiders and pushing it to the realm of art and architecture in their quest to use the protein in the spider silk used to weave spiderwebs as an ideal building material that could be replicated and used synthetically. Tomas and I have pushed the boundaries of what we thought we could actually do," Buehler said about their project, "it's important to be creative. Putting Tomas and my students in the same room lets them learn from him as an artist to think wildly, and that's necessary to solve a problem."

Gardner's theories on "multiple intelligences" fits incredibly well in describing what is happening at M.I.T. Gardner, in studying "multiple intelligences", compared Picasso and Freud, "deliberately contrasting people of different intelligences: linguistic and logical in Freud's case, and spatial and bodily in Picasso's...both men drew on their personal intelligences in most distinctive ways"...

...But just think what might have happened and what might have been created if Picasso and Freud had been able to stretch and push each other in their own version of intelligence like these M.I.T. scientists and artists are doing with and for each other! Now that would have been a science-art collaboration for the ages.

Gardner, H. Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Live of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi. New York: 2011. Print

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love the field of Bioart! We have a blossoming program here actually, with Professor Hunter Cole teaching both entry-level and independent study classes on the subject. (If you ever make it to the third floor of the Life Science Building here on campus, you can see her latest instillation). The crossovers between science and art are highly under-explored, and I loved how you highlighted that. I also liked how you discussed the difficulties of using two different intelligences to create. The works of art were beautiful, and it was exciting to be able to learn more about this subject I already love. Very well written and insightful article in terms of studying creativity through the lens of Gardner as well, thank you for the read.


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