Leonardo Education and Art Forum at CAA Chicago 2010

Migratory Structures: Scientific Imagery and Contemporary Art Practice

Saturday, February 13, 2010, 12:30pm–2:00pm
College Art Association 2010 Conference
Regency A, Gold Level
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago, Illinois
Facebook Event Page

Despite their divergent attitudes and history, artists and scientists share a deep concern with patterns, form, and structure. In different ways, both attribute meaning to form. Arguably, methodical experiment and the formal description of natural phenomena constitute science, while the production of forms that "imitate Nature in her manner of operation" offers one definition of art.

In art as in science, computational tools have greatly expanded the realm of formal entities. So rich is the field of new forms, that it lacks lexicons for interpretation. The product of scientific computation will typically be a visualization, its meaning established by the context of the data. Artists decouple form from originary meaning to recreate the processes whereby form and meaning are associated. Decoupled form becomes migratory, and can appear in different art forms, media, and sensory manifestations.

This panel offers discussion by artists working with conceptual structures and representations of data that are mapped from one context into another. "Intermedia" is perhaps the most accurate term for describing this sort of work, but it is intermedia that crosses not only the boundaries between artistic media, but those between art and science.

Paul Hertz, Panel Chair
Independent Artist and Curator
paul AT ignotus DOT com

Hannah Higgins, Discussant
Phillips Museum Center for the Study of Modern Art
The University of Illinois at Chicago
higgins AT uic DOT edu

Diane Gromala, PhD
Professor, School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Simon Fraser University
dgromala AT sfu DOT ca

Jean-Pierre Hébert
Artist-in-Residence, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics
University of California, Santa Barbara
hebert AT kitp DOT ucsb DOT edu

Marlena Novak
Associate Director, Animate Arts Program, School of Communications
Faculty, Art Theory and Practice, Northwestern University
m-novak AT northwestern DOT edu

Jack Ox
Research Assistant Professor, Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts;
Associated Faculty Member, Center for Advanced Research Computing; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
jackox AT hpc DOT unm DOT edu

Jay Alan Yim
Associate Professor, Composition Program, Department of Music Studies,
Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University
jaymar AT northwestern DOT edu

Introductory Remarks

Introductory Remarks by Paul Hertz (PDF)


One of the most engaging aspects of data visualization/sonification is simply its sensory impact: something previously hidden can be explored and conveyed as a shared experience. The thread that connects the artists that we will present—Wapke Feenstra (Rotterdam), Sabrina Raaf (Chicago), and localStyle (Chicago/Amsterdam)—is one where the audience encounters artworks that analyze some aspects of dynamic/living structures (animals/ecosystems, people/communities) and use technology to transform and reprocess that data. These projects range from the disappearance of our agricultural roots, to a portrait of CO2 in an artspace, to the musicality hidden in everyday speech, to the unique sensory system of electric fish in the Amazon. The results take form as relational performances and installations, and can be material or ephemeral.


LocalStyle (Marlena Novak and Jay Alan Yim)

Algorithmic Practices at the Intersection of Art and Science

If we define an algorithm as simply a "computable set of steps to achieve a desired result," it is evident that human use of algorithms is as old as counting and pattern-making—which is to say, prehistoric, dating back millennia to that time when art and science were inseparable ways of knowing the world. Computational technology brings them closer, after a long divergence. I will present here a quick overview of the extensive presence of algorithms in art, rapidly bringing us to the present. I will introduce algorithms of different natures and origins at the confluence of technology, science, and mathematics, and discuss the relationship of a few selected artists with their algorithms. As a practitioner of algorithmic art, I will of course mention theoretical physics, as I work alongside with physicists.


Jean-Pierre Hébert

Better Than Drugs: VR, Meditation and Pain

Artists re-imagine technologies in ways that exceed the intentions of scientific inventors. In the hands of artists, immersive virtual reality technology became an artistic medium that could elicit altered modes of perception and awareness of continually changing, embodied states. Within such work, "the body" is not a metaphor or trope, but the very basis for experience, co-creation and meaning. VR works developed for treating pain enable patients to learn to self-modulate their experience of pain and thus serve as therapy. Surprisingly, VR proves more effective in treating pain than videogames or the ancient standard—opiates. This paper outlines an art practice and research imbricated in a team of physicians and scientists who treat and help manage chronic pain through VR, biomedical, and mobile technologies. The resulting work is exhibited as artwork and is used in hospitals and clinics as an adjuvant treatment.


Diane Gromala, PhD

Visualization and the Art of Metaphoric Mapping

For the mind to grasp its significance, numerical data must be converted into visual constructions or even musical constructions. It must be made into a thing, reified. One reifies in order to conceptualize. The process by which we attribute structure and meaning to data can be described as a species of mapping, similar to metaphor. As in rhetoric, the range of representations conditions our understanding of the domain of data. The author examines intermedia and metaphor as methodologies of representation, and shows how the problematic area of data representation has reunited art and science in fruitful ways. Through examples of computer-aided visualization, she discusses the philosophical implications of models and taxonomies of representation. She speculates on ways to train artists to work between domains, helping to create languages of multi-modal representation that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration.

Gridjam Performance as a Paradigm for Scientific Collaboration

Jack Ox