Friday, June 10, 2016

Event 4: Fowler Museum (UCLA)

The Fowler Museum is an ideal place to visit for UCLA students not only because of the cultural heritage it contains, but also because of its proximity since it is housed on campus. It is for that reason that I decided to pay the museum a visit, in midst of finals week. Fowler Museum was established in 1963 with its purpose to consolidate various collections of non-Western artifacts on campus, with particular focus on art and material culture from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, as well as the Americas. Through exhibitions, publications, and public programs, Fowler Museum aims to instill an appreciation of diverse peoples, cultures, and religions of the world. 
Headrests in East and Central Africa
When I first walked into the museum, these hemispherical objects immediately caught my attention. As it turns out, they are in fact headrests constructed in East and Central Africa by wooden supports to cradle the neck during sleep. Because our head serves as a "medium" in which we can communicate between human and ancestral realms during dreams, the head is usually associated with spiritual power and the concentrated essence of a human being. As a rest, the artifact on which the head rests is often revered as an art form. 

The Fowler Museum also contains an impressive amount of silverware. These collections of silver mainly originated from the British, but also include items from Western Europe, Russia, and America. Most of these silverware date from 17th-19th centuries, where industrial revolution had led to increased slave labor in the mining of gold and silver, and the craftsmanship of gold and silverware was consequently reinvigorated. Since the use of silver by the imperial and wealthy families have perpetuated in China throughout almost its entire history, people would undoubtedly wonder how silver-crafting technologies have changed since then. As it turns out, modern technologies have done little for artists other than to provide some mechanical aids. In fact, a negative consequence of advancements in technologies that enabled the mass production of silver also inadvertently led to the devaluation of silver as an art form. Regardless, we once again observe the intricate link between technology and art. 
Silverware in Fowler's collection
The most salient changes that advances in technologies have brought us are captured in a series of photographs captured by Stephen Verona in his series Mao to Now. From rickshaws to Maglev trains, and from roadside barbers to beauty salons, we see how technology brings us both convenience and luxury. In the lower right corner of the picture below, the evolution of fashion with technology can also be observed, though admittedly this may be due more to changes in fashion sense than to technology per se. However, we note that technology does in fact shape fashion, as we recall the 3D printed fashion garments on display at the Architecture and Design Museum.  
Mao to Now by Stephen Verona
Here's a photo of myself at the museum ;D

"About the Museum". Fowler Museum. N.d. Web. 10 June 2016.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Event 3: Hammer Museum

I visited the exhibition "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957" in Hammer Museum on May 12. It is the first comprehensive exhibition in the US that documents and examines the history of Black Mountain College, a famous experimental college where art education was deemed central to its liberal arts education. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that Black Mountain College did not stipulate courses as required, and instead gave its student free rein over pursuing their interests. This freedom was largely due to ideals of the progressive education movement, and was also influenced by education reformer John Dewey's principles of education. As a testament to the power of such freedom, many of the college's students and faculty went on to extend their influence to disparate fields such as visual art, musical composition, poetry, and architecture. 

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957
Hammer Museum
Buckminster Fuller in his geodesic dome
To my pleasant surprise, Buckminster Fuller was among the famous architects who taught at Black Mountain College, even serving as its Institute Director in 1949. Fuller is best known for his popularization of the geodesic dome, a 3D geometrical shape constructed by each face of a icosahedron (a type of Platonic solid) into n2 similar triangular tiles. The edges of these small triangles are then projected onto the sphere, so that the resultant structure carries the arrangement of edges. Such a geometric construct have since been widely used in modern architecture design. The Montreal Biosphere, the Climatron greenhouse at Missouri Botanical Gardens, and Walt Disney's Spaceship Earth are a few such examples. A deep mathematical principle behind the geodesic dome is that it solves the 3D isoperimetric problem, which in layman terms means that it encloses the largest volume for a given area. It is therefore conceivable that such designs will find applications elsewhere where space is constrained. For his lifetime achievements, an allotrope of carbon, fullerene, has been named after him, with a particular molecule of that allotrope (C60, called buckminsterfullerene) bearing his full signature. 

The Geodesic Dome by Buckminster Fuller
There were many famous artists, such as Josef and Anni Albers, whose works were on display, with many by Josef displaying deep understanding of perspective paintings and color. It is apparent, from a simple stroll along the exhibitions, that there are deep scientific principles behind these artworks, which once again shows the existence of the "third culture". Here's a photo of myself at the museum.


1. "Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957". Hammer Museum. N.d. Web.  4 June 2016. <>

2. "Geodesic dome". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 4 June 2016. <>

3. "Black Mountain College". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 4 June 2016. <>

4. "Buckminster Fuller Inside His Geodesic Dome". Pinterest. N.d. Web. 4 June 2016.  <>

5. "Perspective (graphical)". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 4 June 2016. <>

Friday, June 3, 2016

Event 2: Architecture and Design Museum (A+D)

On May 21st, I visited the COME IN! DTLA exhibition at the Architecture and Design (A+D) Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. Though the museum had severe space constraints, it still contain a reasonable number of exhibitions that tie in closely with the content covered in class. The applications of advanced technologies in fashion and design are particularly striking. 

Among the designers whose artworks are on display is Julia Koerner, who explores the concept of biomimicry in 3D printing fashion garments. Among the exhibits are the Hymenium Jacket and the Kelp Jacket, shown below, which are both part of the Sporophyte Collection. This collection is primarily motivated by flowerless plants which reproduce through spores, hence the name "Sporophyte", which refers to a particular stage in which spores are produced. The Kelp Jacket, for example, bears semblance to the complex and intricate layering system found in kelps. With the help of sophisticated 3D printing technologies, the lace-like patterns appear to grow naturally on the human body. It is in this regard that such bio-inspired designs establish the link between technology, nature, and art. 
3D printed fashion garments: Hymenium Jacket (Left), Kelp Jacket (right)
Experimental shoe designer Chris Francis is another artist whose work was on display. In his collection "Ten Acts of Brutalism", he explores the concept of "Brutalism" as a wearable architecture. The shoes, which were made of everyday objects on a meager $300 budget, exemplifies both geometrical ideas as well as materials physics in its design, giving it an semi-mechanical outlook capable of artistic and self expression. 
Shoes from the collection "Ten Acts of Brutalism"
While exploring the museum, I found an unnamed art piece in a secluded corner that explores the concept of "perspective". In that art piece, space was carved out on a wall and handcrafted miniature furnitures were placed inside, so that a close-up view of the art piece makes it seem like a typical living room. I am especially fond of those miniature hanger made from paper clips. 

Overall, I found the museum an interesting place to visit on a casual weekend. The art exhibits would be especially entertaining for those interested in the application of modern technologies to fashion. Here's a photo of me at the museum! 


1. "Sporophyte". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 2 June 2016.

2. "Come In! DTLA". A+D Architecture and Design Museum. 24 March 2016. Web. 2 June 2016.

3. "Julia Korner". JKDesigns. N.d. Web 2 June 2016.

4. "Chris Francis Shoes". Pinterest. N.d. Web. 2 June 2016.

5. "Perspective (graphical)". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 2 June 2016.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Week 9: Space and Art

Space is an interesting concept for our perceptions of space have changed leaps and bounds throughout the passage of time. The vastness of space itself, when looking only from a local perspective, have led to ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks until end of the classical period, believing in the flat Earth model, in which Earth's shape is conceptualized to be planar or disk-shaped. Similarly, this vastness had led to historical debates on the scientific accuracy of geocentrism, where all celestial bodies are propounded to revolve around the Earth. It wasn't until the 16th century that Nicolaus Copernicus, in elaborate geometrical details, proposed his heliocentric model that resolved the issue of planetary retrograde motion. 
Copernicus's heliocentric model
All these issues can be attributed to the apparent local isotropy of space, where it appears to be uniform in all directions locally. Only when we scale things up can we observe the anisotropic effects. For example, Earth appears to be 2D when observed on its surface, but it is in fact 3D (and spherical) when observed from space. Thus, to explore space, we have to develop elaborate technologies. As Prof. Vesna mentioned in her introduction video, "space" is a subject that integrates all the topics covered, such as nanotechnology, robotics, and mathematics, in this course in a coherent manner. For example, carbon nanotubes were envisioned for the the construction of space elevators, construction of spaceships and scientific instruments used in space missions all involved knowledge in robotics etc. 
Artist's conceptualization of a space elevator

In addition, space explorations have led to a huge number of remarkable technological advancements. The Hubble Space Telescope is especially noteworthy. In addition to producing some of the most detailed visible-light images of universe, it had also recorded many observations that led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as accurately determining the universe's rate of expansion. This is but one aspect in which space and art are inextricably linked.
Image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope

1. "Space intro." YouTube, Web. 29 May 2016.

2. "8 space pt1 1280x720." YouTube. Web. 29 May 2016. 

3. "Heliocentrism" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 29 May. 2016.

4. "Flat Earth" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 29 May. 2016.

5. "Hubble Space Telescope Images" European Space Agency. N.d. Web 29 May 2016. 

6. "Weekend Walkabout - Exploring the Solar System" N.p. 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 May 2016. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Week 8: Nanotechnology and Art

Nanotechnology primarily involves the assembly and manipulation of function systems at the molecular scale, from anywhere between 1 to 100 nanometers. While its concept, namely synthesis of molecules by direct manipulation of atoms, were first discussed and publicized by Physicist Richard Feynman in his 1969 talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom", the term "nanotechnology" wasn't coined until 1974, by Japanese Professor Norio Taniguchi. Though perhaps somewhat fortuitously, the first demonstration where nanotechnology was ostensibly applied is found in the Lycurgus Cup, which was made with small proportions of gold and silver nanoparticles distributed across the cup. Due to the presence of these nanoparticules, the Cup is able to display different colors depending on whether light is passing through. 
The Lycurgus Cup: green when light shines from in front, red when from the back
Given the modern notion of nanotechnology, and the fact that the Cup is a 4th century Roman artifact, the process in which it is made remains unclear, and may therefore be accidental, with the craftsman not even being aware of the presence of gold. Nevertheless, the Lycurgus Cup remains the first piece of artwork whose roots are deeply entwined with nanotechnology. 

In Dr Gimzewski's lecture, another scientist and engineer that is notable in the history of nanotechnology is Dr Eric Drexler, who arguably wrote the first scholarly article on the topic, and is known for popularizing its potential. In his book <Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology>, Drexler pondered the idea of a molecular assembler, one that is able to assemble molecular machines of arbitrary complexity. His vision of nanotechnology , one that revolves primarily around these molecular machines, however, was deemed "naive" by Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley , who put forth a number of arguments against Drexler. Since the conclusion of the debate in 2003, there have been quite a number of successful experiments that were in fact able to synthesize machine-like molecules. A notable example would the nanocar, developed by Rice Professor James Tour to demonstrate whether fullerenes slide or roll on a metal surface. 
Nanocar rolling across a surface
Another recent discovery is the conceptualization of the carbon nanotube oscillator. In such a system, a inner nanotube structure (such as C60) is placed within an outer carbon nanotube, and is shown to able to oscillate naturally, due to the van der Waals' forces between the two. Though there are still many challenges in order to realize such conceptualizations experimentally, understanding the mechanical properties of these simple molecular systems is definitely crucial for building larger molecular machines.
Schematics of the nanotube oscillator

1. "Nanotech Jim pt 1-6." YouTube. Web. 22 May 2016.>

2. "Lycurgus Cup". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 22 May. 2016.

3. "K. Eric Drexler". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 22 May. 2016.

4. "Nanocars". James Tour. James Tour Group. N.d. Web 22 May 2016.<>

5. "Simulating Molecular Dynamics of Nanotube-based Structures". Yong-Wei Zhang. NUS Materials Science and Engineering. 1 Feb 2010. Web. 22 May 2016. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Week 7: Neuroscience and Art

The relation between neuroscience and art is one that's both beautiful and perplexing. It's common for one to ask questions such as "what is consciousness", or "what are dreams", but any serious attempts to answer these thought-provoking questions have to stem from knowledge in neuroscience. To this end, we looked at a single organ in this week's lecture: the human brain. 
The human brain
Neuron map
As mentioned in Prof. Vesna's video, the human brain has been the subject of scientific studies only for about a century, following the discovery of electricity and microscope. As we now understand, the brain is made up of billions of neurons each connected by synapses to thousands of other neurons, and these neurons communicate via action potential sent along long protoplasmic fibers called axons. The recognition of neurons as primary functional units in the nervous system is credited to Spanish anatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who is now regarded by many as the father of modern neuroscience. Among his great discoveries is the fact that one could "read out the connection patterns between neurons by simply looking at their shapes". This tree-like structure that connects neurons is not only artistically elegant, but are also optimized to allow efficient communication between neurons. It is in this regard that Cajal refers to neurons as the "mysterious butterflies of the soul". In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Cajal was also a seen as a legendary medical artists as his hand-made depictions of the neurons highlight the delicate arborizations of the brain cells, and are still widely used for educational purposes. 
Suzanne Anker's FMRI Butterfly

Cajal's idea of the butterfly has also influenced and served as a source of inspiration for many other artists and scientists. For example, artist Suzanne Anker, in collaboration with neuroscientist Giovanni Frazzetto, initiated the Neuroculture Project which aims to examine how "modern brain science has penetrated popular culture". One of their works, the FMRI butterfly, connected beautifully to Cahal's. In that work, 15 identical brain scans are arranged on a grid overlaid with various patterns of ink blots and an identical butterfly. When looking at these overlaid brain scans, one would pick up the nuance variations between each of them that give an optical illusion as if the butterflies are different from one another. Together with Cajal's beautiful neuron maps, these works aptly capture the artistic aspect inherent in neuroscience. 


1. Vesna, Victoria. “Neurosci + Art Lectures I-III.” Youtube, Web. 14 May 2016.

2. "Neuron" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 14 May. 2016.

3. "Santiago Ramon y Cajal" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 14 May. 2016.

4. "Techniques Series: Creating a Molecular Brain Map". Ana. Science Exchange. 8 April 2013. Web. 14 May 2016. 

5. "Neuroculture". Giovanni Frazzetto & Suzanne Anker. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Nov 2009. Web. 14 May 2016.