Art and Nanotech Converge in Campus Biennial
For her newest work, Korean artist Kimsooja wanted to explore a "shape and perspective that reveals the invisible as visible, physical as immaterial, and vice versa."
As artist-in-residence for the 2014 Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) Biennial, she has realized that objective with "A Needle Woman: Galaxy was a Memory, Earth is a Souvenir," to be installed on the Arts Quad next week. It will be one of several installations on campus for the semester-long biennial, "Intimate Cosmologies: The Aesthetics of Scale in an Age of Nanotechnology," beginning September 18 with a talk by Kimsooja.
The biennial theme intends to "show how artists address realms of human experience that lie beyond our immediate sensory perception," CCA Director Stephanie Owens said. "Working with scientists and researchers makes it possible to produce art at the edges between disciplines . . . generating lots of productivity and new thought."
Kimsooja's 46-foot-tall structure features an iridescent polymer film developed at Cornell, reflecting light with structural colors similar to those in a butterfly's wings. Creating it involved some diligent problem-solving by materials scientists in the lab of Uli Wiesner, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Engineering.
Owens first connected artists, musicians, and scientists on campus in a series of lunchtime discussions two years ago. Wiesner said, "I thought, this is what I really wanted to have in a university, a place of knowledge — [where] you can do stuff that goes beyond borders."
Last November, Wiesner met with Owens and Kimsooja. "My group brought a glass vial that had a block of polymer dissolved in a solvent. It had iridescent colors, like an opal," he said. "When you turned it, it was dynamic; the solution would flow around, and the colors changed. And Kimsooja loved it and said, 'This is what I want on my structure.'"
The group, including chemistry Ph.D. student Ferdinand Kohle and postdoctoral researcher Hiroaki Sai, worked out how to create a polymer producing the desired optical effect and how to adhere it to Plexiglas panels on Kimsooja's structure. Architecture students assisted with materials and fabrication.
The biennial, which runs from September 15 to December 21, is a deep survey of artistic and scientific exploration, framing changes in 21st-century culture, art practice, and nanoscale technology through collaborative research-based projects by faculty and students and guest artists Rafael Lazano-Hemmer, Paul Thomas, and Kevin Raxworthy, and the Particle Group artist collective.
Cornell faculty members Beth Milles, performing and media arts; Jenny Sabin, architecture; and Juan Hinestroza and Ruya Ozer, fiber science, with So Yeon-Yoon, design and environmental analysis, have all developed biennial projects on the nano theme with students.
"I really love how world-class science has been incorporated in world-class art," Hinestroza said of the Kimsooja-Wiesner project. "The fundamental science behind the coatings developed by the Wiesner group, the chemistry developed by Hiro, as well as the methods pioneered to coat the films with such nanoscale precision by Ferdinand, are indeed revolutionary — and the use of these materials to assemble a large structure like Kimsooja's needle is simply breathtaking."
Caio Barboza (B.Arch. '13), Joseph Kennedy (B.Arch. '15), and Sunny Xu (B.Arch. '13) created Paperthin, an interactive installation in the Physical Sciences Building based on the textured landscape of a sheet of paper at nanoscale. Physics researcher Robert Hovden '14 created When Art Exceeds Perception, a series of imperceptible nano-scale engravings of famous works of art.
As part of the biennial, the CCA brought artists Joe Davis, Nathaniel Stern, Stephanie Rothenberg, and Berndnaut Smilde to speak on campus last spring. Owens taught a related course, Micro Materialities/Macro Forms: Artistic Practice and the Culture of Nanoscience, in fall 2013.
"Artists that engage research as part of their process," Owens said, "can find partnership and shared vision with like-minded pioneers in [other] disciplines . . . and in doing so, catalyze aspects of their work that can take on new and unexpected directions."
The 2014 CCA Biennial, "Intimate Cosmologies," features several events, installations, and exhibitions by faculty, students, and visiting artists:
- Needle Woman by Kimsooja, September 19–December 22 on the Arts Quad. The structure can be entered by viewers one at a time by appointment; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- "The Dimensions of a Needle," Kimsooja artist talk, September 18, 5:30 p.m. in Milstein Auditorium.
- Biennial Symposium, September 19, with keynote speaker Paul Thomas, Needle Woman project collaborators, panel discussions, 10 a.m., Milstein Auditorium.
- Biennial Reception, September 19, 5–7 p.m. on the Arts Quad.
- A September 20 workshop, Creating an Art/Science Cloud Curriculum, led by CCA Director Stephanie Owens and Australian artist and educator Paul Thomas, will lay the groundwork to establish a curriculum and other considerations for meaningful student engagement in an integrated study of studio art and research-based science.
- Nanowhere, September 14–October 3 in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall Gallery, a project by Cornell researchers Juan Hinestroza, Ruya Ozer, and So-Yeon Yoon, with wearable sensors that detect methane and poisonous gases in a sealed gas chamber, and 3D visual art.
- Paperthin, September 15–December 10 in the Physical Sciences Building Atrium, renders the textures of a sheet of paper at the nano scale as a 3D landscape at regular scale, created by Caio Barboza (B.Arch. '13), Joseph Kennedy (B.Arch. '15), and Sonny Xu (B.Arch. '13).
- ColorFolds: eSkin + Kirigami, by Sabin Design Lab, directed by Assistant Professor Jenny Sabin, architecture, opens September 19 on the third floor of East Sibley Hall. The interactive prototype of adaptive, foldable architecture features structural color change of a façade material, with nano- and micro-scale features and effects inspired by human cells plated on geometrically defined substrates.
- Nanoessence, by Paul Thomas and Kevin Raxworthy, September 22–October 10 in John Hartell Gallery, Sibley Hall. The installation compares atomic structures and vibrations between living and dead skin cells when touched by the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) cantilever.
- Illuminated Nanoscripts, Nanopoems, and Nanogarage(s), by Particle Group, September 22–November 15 on the Herbert F. Johnson Museum façade and in the Human Ecology Building's Jill Stuart Gallery.
- The Charles Babbage Memorial Nano Leaflets, by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, October 1–December 22 in Sibley Dome, includes millions of microscopic leaflets made of pure 24K elemental gold, nano-etched with text by 19th-century polymath Charles Babbage, who invented the first mechanical computer.
Additional events and exhibitions will be announced.