Sunday, April 24, 2016

Week 4 - Medicine+Technology+Art

This week's topic was the intersection of medical technology and art. As a Bioengineering major, the discussion of medicine and its influence on art (and vice versa) is very relevant to many of the classes I am taking in my own field. In this week's discussion we focus on how medical advances affect artistic creations and how art can drive facets of medicine.

A Body Worlds piece

Professor Vesna discusses in detail in her lectures how advances in our understanding of the human body have driven numerous works of art. My personal favorite is the exhibit "Body Worlds," (image above) which is an artistic and scientific exhibition showing preserved bodies of humans and other animals in various poses and levels of transparency. The goal of this exhibition is both to showcase the beauty of the innerworkings of the body and to educate people on how this incredibly complex system functions through a visual medium. While other works are perhaps less overt and graphic, the journey of discovery of the human body by science has paved the way for a variety of interesting physiologically inspired creative works, like Emily Watson's organ-inspired jewelry, below:

Jewelry by Emily Watson

On the flip side, the drive for aesthetics has inspired medical advances as well - Professor Vesna discusses the origins of plastic surgery, which I find to be a fascinating field within medicine. She explains that the field of plastic surgery has its origins in wartime, when cosmetic injuries were very common and many wished to edit them out. While the subject is controversial even today, I find it pretty amazing that medical science has advanced far enough for small cosmetic fixes and changes to become relatively commonplace. I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of the artist "Orlan," who uses cosmetic surgeries as a performance art (shown below). Some may find it obnoxious or superficial, but as Orlan demonstrates, there is an inherent beauty in our ability to choose the way we look.



White, Ryan. "Guests Advised of Sensitive Imagery Prior to BODY WORLDS Vital’s Calgary Run." CTV News Calgary. CTV News Calgary, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

"Metal & Enamel Jewelry." Emily Watson. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Heise, Axcel. "Contoversial Artist Orlan The Reincarnation of Saint-Orlan."Creative Mapping. Creative Mapping, 04 Aug. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Von Hagens, Gunther. "Prelude." Body Worlds. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

"Artiste Transmédia Et Féministe. Météorite Narratif Du BIO ART. Son Oeuvre Questionne Le Statut Du CORPS Dans La Société. Ses Sculptures, HYBRIDATIONS Et Autoportraits Réinterprètent Le Rôle Des Nouvelles Technologies." Orlan. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Week 3 - Art and Robotics

This week's topic was the intersection of art and robotics, specifically with regards to industrialization and society's reaction to it. This topic piqued my interest primarily because of its overlaps with a previous Desma class (Desma 8, Media Histories) that I took at UCLA previously. For that class, I had the pleasure of viewing LACMA's exhibit, "Haunted Screens," which provided insight on the German Expressionist film movement.

The robot of Metropolis, seen in LACMA.

This exhibit really captures the beauty of film as a medium, and speaks on two levels to this week's discussion topic - on one hand, it shows that industrialization and advancing technology can in fact give way to new forms of artistic expression, and on the other, that technological progress can become itself an inspiration for art. Walter Benjamin seems to disagree with this point, saying that the reproduction of a piece of art by mechanical means will diminish its 'aura' - but I think that the reproduction provides value of its own.

Arduino Uno

The mention of Arduino in the lecture also provides me a point of connection to this topic. For my senior Engineering project, my team worked in depth with the Arduino Uno microcontroller to run our own, new diagnostic device. In working with the chip, I discovered just how many interesting, innovative applications are out there, made possible by a simple but powerful technology. While they may not qualify as 'art' in a traditional sense, these creations, powered by the worldwide reach of simple robotic controllers, serve as inspiration to many who would otherwise relegate themselves to a less creative life.

An 8x8 LED cube - just one example of an incredible combination of engineering and art


Miranda, Carolina A. "Wild Architecture Makes German Cinema Come Alive at LACMA." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

W. Benjamin. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." 1936. Print.

"WHAT IS ARDUINO?" Arduino. Arduino, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Chrmoe. "LED Cube 8x8x8 Running on an Arduino." YouTube. YouTube, 31 Dec. 2010. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

D. Davis. "The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction." 1995. Leonardo, Vol. 28, No. 5. Third Annual New York Digital Salon. pp. 381-386. Print.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Week 2 - Mathematics and Art

This week’s topic is the influence of mathematics in art. I don’t personally have much experience with art concepts because I, as Professor Vesna alludes to in her lecture, have been trained to focus only on math and science as opposed to art and other creative topics. In spite of my general lack of artistic knowledge, I was able to connect to some of the topics mentioned in the lecture and found it very interesting that math and art are so interconnected. I remember doing a short project in grade school on the Golden Ratio, which we find in this week’s material is found very often in nature, as shown in the first image below:

The idea that mathematical concepts are mirrored in nature is not a particularly surprising to me, but it does turn out quite beautiful – my favorite piece from this week was the explanation of the Mandelbrot fractal and how natural shapes can be derived from this mathematic concept:

It is rather obvious that math and art have come together in recent years due to the prevalence of computers and the migration of a large portion of artistic creations to the digital medium. However, the connection to nature is what I found most interesting about this week’s topic. After hearing it through the class, it seems like a straightforward connection to make, from math to nature to visual appeal. That said, I never really stopped to think about that connection, and certainly didn’t have exposure to the examples in the course resources section for this week. I was also intrigued by the music and computing link, because digital music is a form of artistic expression that I hear nearly all of my waking hours, but unfortunately I have not yet had time to read through the whole site and have put a bookmark in that for now.


"The Golden Ratio – Fingerprint Of “God” – 19 August 2012." Lucas 2012 Infos. N.p., 19 Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

DlimitR. "Fractals - Mandelbrot." YouTube. YouTube, 17 June 2006. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Burk, Phil, Larry Polansky, Douglas Repetto, Mary Roberts, and Dan Rockmore. "Music and Computers." Music and Computers. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Abbott, Edwin Abbott. "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions." Flatland. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

"Mandelbrot Set." Wolfram MathWorld. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Week 1 - Two Cultures

This week's topic is the concept of the "two cultures," a term coined by C.P. Snow in his essay The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution to describe the separation between people in the fields of literature and science. Snow explains that this gap's source lies in the public education system, which entertains and encourages the idea of the two disciplines being distinct from one another and without crossover. He later augmented this view with a prediction in a later essay, predicting a third group that would serve as a bridge between the two separate sides.

As a UCLA student and a Chinese American citizen, the separation between science and literature has always been very evident in my life. The layout of the academic campus speaks for itself - while I won't waste space rehashing what others have said before, the physical separation between North and South Campus at UCLA reinforces the idea that there shouldn't be intermixing between fields of study. The culture I was raised in doesn't pull punches either; my ethnically Chinese family told me repeatedly through my upbringing that the science and engineering path led to jobs, while the literature and art path did not. Having been a student all my life, I have always been surrounded by this very compartmentalized way of thinking, and to a great extent my choices have reflected it.

In spite of this separation, I would argue that UCLA attempts to bridge the gap between worlds. Many have brought forth their own views on what the "third culture" is - John Brockman posits that modern-day scientists are this third group, while our own Professor Vesna suggests that it is instead digital artists who open up communication between the scientists and the literary intellectuals. I personally find the efforts to identify one particular group or another as this bridge to be too limiting. I think that rather than being able to point to one group, we should instead focus on attaining the breadth of knowledge and understanding of the two sides necessary to be a part of the bridge, and regardless of which side we align to, strive to always be open to the other. By taking this class, especially, I hope to gain a better understanding of how both sides contribute to the development of human society and how I can play a role in advancing that in the future.


Snow, C. P. “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” Reading. 1959. New York: Cambridge UP, 1961. Print.

Brockman, John. The Third Culture. N.p.: n.p., 1995. Print.

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures: And a Second Look. N.p.: n.p., 1963. Print.

Vesna, Victoria. "Toward a Third Culture: Being In Between." Leonardo. 34 (2001): 121-125. Print.

 "An Update on C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures"" Scientific American. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.