Paul Thomas and Kevin Raxworthy: Nanoessence


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The Nanoessence exhibition, by Dr. Paul Thomas and his partner Kevin Raxworthy, is based on a comparative investigation of atomic structures and vibrations taking place between living and dead skin cells when touched by the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) cantilever. Living skin cells are scanned by the AFM in various modes, where the cantilever raster scans the surface of the skin cell by tapping or touching the surface. This mode records the topographies by gathering deflection data that is translated to produce a visual representation. The force spectroscopy mode determines atomic vibration taking place as the tip touches and rests on the surface of the cell.

The skin cell, vapor, and breath are fundamental concepts and materials utilized in the investigation of the creation of life in the exhibition. The Nanoessence project uses the data from the AFM to look at biological phenomena of difference revealed at a nano level in topographical visualizations and sonic structures between life and death. The breath and moisture interface allows for the user to breathe on the model of a HaCat cell and then enter visually the projection of an envelope between life and death. As the user maintains their breath cellular automatons start to grow and spin. This growth last as long as the user continues to breathe on the work.

The sonic topographic texture of Nanoessence was created from the comparative analysis of data between alive and dead that is converted into sound files. The exhibition presents auditory work consisting of sonic vibrations that occur at the nano level, which the audience can experience as audible topographic sensation in space and time.

The desires for the Nanoessence project is to confront our phenomenological understanding of infinite smallness and create a psychological shift in viewers' consciousness. The art works were created to generate immersive interactive spaces for change. The breath interface in Nanoessence allows for the formation of an empathetic connection to be made with the work.

Collaborators on the Nanoessence project include: Oran Catts, Ionat Zurr SymbioticA, and Dr. Thomas Becker at the Nano Research Institute at Curtin University of Technology. This project is part of the 2014 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial.

Dr. Paul Thomas:

Thomas, is the program director of fine art at the College of Fine Art, University of New South Wales. Thomas was cochair of the Transdisciplinary Image Conference (2010), and instigated and was founding director of the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth (2002, 2004). Since 1981 he has worked in the area of electronic arts, cofounding the group Media-Space, which was part of the first global link up with artists connected to ARTEX. From 1981 to 1986 the group was involved in a number of collaborative exhibitions and was instrumental in the establishment a substantial body of research. Thomas' current research project Nanoessence explores the space between life and death at a nano level. The project is part of an ongoing collaboration with the Nanochemistry Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology, and SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia. The previous project, Midas, researched at a nano level the transition phase between skin and gold. Thomas is a practicing electronic artist whose work has exhibited internationally and can be seen on his website Visiblespace.

Kevin Raxworthy:

Raxworthy is senior technician in the Studio of Electronic Arts (SEA) at Curtin University of Technology. Raxworthy has been working in the area of media art since 1983. He was the technical support officer for the Biennale of Electronic Art Perth (2002, 2004). Raxworthy has been working in collaboration with Thomas on the Midas project that was exhibited at Enter 3 Prague in 2007. For their current project, Nanoessence, they have written an algorithm based on cellular automaton that is affected and stimulated by using the different information gained from sensors that read the user's breath. Raxworthy's work looks at the nexus between artificial life, code space, and art. Raxworthy is currently completing his masters in electronic art and has recently completed a master of art in electronic art.

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