Sunday, June 5, 2016

Event -- Seattle Underground Tour

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Seattle's Underground Tour, which is a guided exploration of part of the old city that Seattle was built over. Seattle was founded in the latter half of the 1800s, but it initially experienced a great deal of problems due to the local geology. The town was essentially built on wet sand and sawdust from the local lumber mill. Furthermore, most of the houses were built from wood. As a result, the city suffered flooding from tides (toilets would overflow during the high tide), sinking buildings, and fires. The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed a huge portion of the city, and it was decided that new construction would be built with fireproof materials; not only that, but buildings were also constructed over old structures, leading to the creation of the Seattle underground. For a time, the "basement level" was still used for business.
The Seattle underground has a certain aesthetic and represents culture from a century ago. The aesthetic is mysterious, yet quaint. The culture is that of a people who cobbled together what would become one of the United States' most prosperous cities. There is a certain unorthodox science to how the city's problems were solved.
Madame Lou Graham appears in the picture above with some of her girls. Prostitution was a large part of Seattle's economy, and when Madame Lou Graham died she left her fortune to the schools of Seattle. Although more conservative people had objections about the source of the money, it was nonetheless a huge boon to the education system.

Selfie of me in the Seattle Underground Tour.


Bennett, Jeanette. "The Woman Who Laid the Foundation of Seattle." The Association of Temporal Anthropologists:. 23 May 2013. Web. 05 June 2016.

Seattle Municipal Archives. "Brief History of Seattle." CityArchives. Web. 05 June 2016.

Seattle Underground Tour. Web. 05 June 2016. <>.

Speidel, Bill. Seattle Underground Tour. 1965. Guided Tour. Pioneer Square, Seattle.

"The Great Seattle Fire." University of Washington Digital Collections. Web. 05 June 2016. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Event -- Todd Madigan Art Gallery

The Todd Madigan Art Gallery at the California State University, Bakersfield displays artwork by CSUB students. Several of their works use technology as part of their medium and presentation.

The first thing that you see when you are entering the museum are strange objects, such as this one, which have been created from bits of garbage. They are part of a series called Trash Preserves by Licet Romero; this one is called Personal Preference. My interpretation of what this artist is saying is that, even as humanity technologically advances, we generate a large amount of waste that is slowly polluting the earth. One way to counteract this is to recycle this waste, for example by turning it into art.

What appear to be iPads are, in fact, constructs of wood, glass, and paper made by Enjoli DeWester. Entitled Conflicted, they depict a traditional form of artwork, nude portraiture, but are designed to look like images on a tablet. The traditionalism of the art contrasts with the overall modern appearance.

This miniature "room" in the center of the gallery is called For the love of music, in the name of art, by R. Mayte Mendez. It contains a large number of music-related items from around the 70s, but one wall is notably bare and features only an iPod. For better or for worse, the posters, record players, stereos, and other musical memorabilia have been replaced by one small device. A lot of personality and culture is lost in the process.

For these exhibits, Sensuals and Civil Rights respectively, Saige White created two audio-visual experiences. Visually, Sensuals features a variety of vivid clips; aurally, a woman's voice recites poetry in the foreground while another woman sings in the background. In Civil Rights, White performs a rap about the titular subject, while the video of her movements is edited to fit the beat. In both cases, White makes full use of her technological medium.

Selfie of me with two of the employees.


DeWester, Enjoli. Conflicted. 2016. Wood, glass, ink, and graphite on paper. Todd Madigan Art Gallery, Bakersfield, California. 

Mendez, R. Mayte. For the Love of Music, in the Name of Art. 2016. Found objects. Todd Madigan Art Gallery, Bakersfield, California.

Romero, Licet. Trash Preserves: Personal Preference. 2016. Found objects. Todd Madigan Art Gallery, Bakersfield, California.

White, Saige. Civil Rights. 2016. Video/Sound. Todd Madigan Art Gallery, Bakersfield, California.

White, Saige. Sensuals. 2016. Video/Sound. Todd Madigan Art Gallery, Bakersfield, California. 

Event -- Bakersfield Museum of Art

At the Bakersfield Museum of Art, there are a number of exhibits that incorporate technology in their themes and their making. Many of the featured artists are students studying art at Bakersfield schools.

Ines Castillo's art addresses consumerism and materialism. In this work, the woman's eyes are replaced with barcodes, and she appears distressed. Her art shows clear influence from cartoons or comics, the former of which interested her as a child, according to her biography.

These two pieces by Allyanna Demafeliz are digital drawings. The first one, Idealism, is a statement on how women of color are obliged by society to aspire to white standards of beauty. The second one, Ignorantism, is a statement on how children are shielded from reality, and are often shown a distorted view of it. Most of the children have their eyes covered, and one has her mouth covered. Demafeliz has been creating digital art since she received a digital tablet at the age of 13.

Katelyn Alvarado was inspired by both Salvador Dali and animated films to create a triptych of a dreamcatcher. According to her, "I tried to change the dreamcatcher's image by making it represent man's dreams, and instead of glorifying those dreams, I wanted to show the consequences of man's accomplishments and the darkness in them."

This is a piece called Bakersfield - Water, Land, Oil by Peter Lloyd. It is a comment on how humans change the landscape around them to harvest resources for their needs. When taking this photo, I angled the reflection of the light on the ceiling so that it would appear as though the light were the sun beating down. In a sense I used my technology to create art from art.

 This is my selfie at the gallery with the receptionist there.


Alvarado, Katelyn. Untitled. 2016. Water color, ink, and colored pencil on paper. Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, California.

Castillo, Ines. Untitled. 2016. Water color on paper. Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, California.

Demafeliz, Allyanna. Idealism. 2016. Digital drawing. Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, California.

Demafeliz, Allyanna. Ignorantism. 2016. Digital drawing. Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, California.

Demafeliz, Allyanna. The Art of Allyanna Demafeliz. Web. 04 June 2016.
Lloyd, Peter. Bakersfield - Water, Land, Oil. 1972. Mixed media. Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, California. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nebulae and Art

Nebulae are massive interstellar clouds of dust and gasses, as well as some of the most beautiful celestial objects in existence. However, the ability to see this beauty has taken significant advancement of technology, particularly in the area of telescopes.

Above is a picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Crab Nebula. The Crab Nebula is the spectacular remnant of a star exploding as a supernova. It is so huge that it takes 6 years for light to travel from one end to the other. Even though the nebula is 6,500 light years away, Japanese and Chinese astronomers were able to view its first appearance to humanity 1,000 years ago.  The same distance that prevented us from seeing it in its full glory fortunately also spared us from the destruction that comes with the energy release from a supernova.
The Hubble Space Telescope orbits above the Earth so that its atmosphere does not interfere with the view of the telescope.

In light of the newfound resplendence of nebulae, artists have created their own visions of them.
Jon Sandler, Nebula #2
Moonchilde-Stock, Lazarus Nebula

Space is a vast domain, and there is still much to be explored. Who knows what else we might find with our increasingly effective technology? Who knows what else artists might be inspired to create?


Moonchilde-Stock. "All Size Wallpapers: Lazarus Nebula Space Art Wallpaper." Lazarus Nebula Space Art. DeviantArt. Web. 29 May 2016. 

NASA. "A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula." HubbleSite. 1 Dec. 2005. Web. 29 May 2016.

Newcomb, Alyssa. "What Makes the Hubble Space Telescope So Special." ABC News. ABC News Network, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 May 2016.

Sandler, Jon. "Nebula #2." School of Art Art History Design University of Washington. University of Washington. Web. 29 May 2016.

Vesna, Victoria. "Space + Art." UC Online. UCLA, 2012-2013. Web. 29 May 2016. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Nanotech & Art

Nanotechnology is a relatively new form of science that has the potential to be highly beneficial, though some worry about a possible doomsday scenario. In popular culture, nanotechnology brings to mind tiny robots that could cure previous incurable diseases, or alternatively consume the entire earth to create more of themselves. The latter scenario is incredibly unlikely, but perhaps it is worth keeping in mind, since its effects would be so negative.

In reality, nanotechnology is a much broader field, and it rarely involves making tiny machines. Nanoparticles, such as those of silver, can function as antibacterial additions to clothing. The drawback is that we do not yet fully understand the effects that silver nanoparticles can have on water waste; ocean pollution is already a big problem and we do not want to make it worse. On a more positive note, the use of nanoparticles resulted in a new drug for cancer treatment, abraxane.

Nanotechnology as a field may be new, but nanoparticles have been in use for thousands of years by both man and nature. Certain geckos have nanostructures on their feet which allow them to climb walls;  blue morpho butterflies appear blue not because of blue pigment, but because they have nanostructures which manipulate light to reflect blue instead of black; lotus leaves have hydrophobic nanostructures to stay clean. Before humans even knew of the existence of atoms, humans were using nanoparticles to give stained glass windows colors that were better than those of normal pigments.

This brings us to the application of nanotechnology to art. In the past 5 years there have been major advances in printing and 3D printing. A group of scientists at the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering in Singapore accidentally discovered a way to print color images at a resolution of 100,000 dots per inch. This means that data could be stored much more efficiently. Artistically, the potential exists for both tiny works of art and works of art with incredible resolutions and complex color combinations. In the world of 3D printing there are already works of art, such as this 330x130x100 µm^3 dimensioned race car.
Vienna University of Technology
The car presumably doesn't function like a normal car... at least not yet. But the sheer level of detail is extraordinary.
Robert Steinberg
This "vase" was created by pouring a colloid onto a surface (left), then allowing it to dry and removing the excess (center). Then it was finished off by shaping it into the image of a vase (right). The "vase" was partially self-assembled, an important aspect of nanotechnology. Self-assembly and emergent properties are perhaps the easiest way to create things at a nanoscopic level.
Ghim Wei Ho
Lastly, this image of a "Nano Flower Bouquet" demonstrates the fusion of the classic artistic representation of flowers (think of all the paintings of flowers that you have seen) and the new art of nanotechnology.


Danigelis, Alyssa. "Nanoprinter Achieves Insane Resolution : DNews." Discovery News. 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 22 May 2016.

Gimzewski, Jim. "Nanotech for Artists." UC Online. Web. 22 May 2016.

Gimzewski, Jim, and Victoria Vesna. "The Nanomeme Syndrome: Blurring of Fact & Fiction in the Construction of a New Science." UCLA. Web. 22 May 2016. 

Ho, Ghim Wei. "Nano Flower Bouquet." Nanotechnology Art Gallery. Nanotechnology Now. Web. 22 May 2016.

Steinberg, Robert. Nanotechnology Art Gallery. Nanotechnology Now. Web. 22 May 2016.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Creativity and Mental Illness

A common archetype in popular culture is that of the "mad artist." The mad artist almost always suffers as a result of their condition, but also produces works which are far above what "normal" people might produce. For example, someone with bipolar disorder might have bursts of creativity during their manic phases.

Matthew Good, a rock musician, suffers from bipolar disorder.

It's easy to see how this stereotype came about. Creating something new often means thinking of things which have little basis in reality, or are outside of what is considered normal. Something original is by definition not normal, since nothing like it has come before it. From there it's easy to make the transition to the abnormal, to mental illness. Mental illness can present itself as a disconnection from reality, or as a different way of thinking.
The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dalí is known for its surreal imagery.

Is it true, or is the relation between the two just a romanticization of mental illness? The answer lies somewhere in between. According to a 40-year study of over 1 million people, there wasn't a strong correlation between mental illness and being in a creative profession. However, there was one between having a close relative with a mental illness and being in a creative profession. One conclusion to tentatively draw from this is that some traits of mental illness are beneficial for creativity, but that full blown mental illness tends to be either a neutral factor or a hindrance. Of course, this is just an average; there are plenty of anecdotal examples of artists who are "normal" and of ones who are "crazy."

As neuroscience advances we learn more and more about the way our brains work, such as how chemicals like serotonin and dopamine affect us, or how neuron links relate to memory and thoughts. We also create new medications. How will those influence creativity and art moving into the future? Only time will tell.

Maki-e Neurons neuron art on gold leaf by Greg Dunn 
Maki-e Neurons (2012) by Greg Dunn.


Canadian Mental Health Assocation. "Bipolar Disorder, Manic Depression, Matthew Good Mental Illness." YouTube. Janwilkins2773, 21 Mar. 2009. Web. 15 May 2016.

Dalí, Salvador. The Persistence of Memory. 1931. Painting. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Dunn, Greg. "Maki-e Neurons." Greg Dunn Design. 2012. Web. 15 May 2016. 

Kaufman, Scott Barry. "The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness." Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, 03 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 May 2016.

Kyaga, Simon, Mikael Landén, Marcus Boman, Christina Hultman, Niklas Långström, and Paul Lichtenstein. Mental Illness, Suicide and Creativity: 40-Year Prospective Total Population Study. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 14 Sept. 2012. PDF.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Genetically Modifying Organisms -- A Not So New Practice

When we think of genetic modification, we usually imagine scientists carefully inserting genes into cells in a laboratory setting. But in reality, humans have been engaging in genetic modification for thousands of years -- science has only made the process easier and more direct. Consider the case of dogs, which humans have domesticated from wolves.
A wolf.
Some of the many breeds of dogs.

Wolves have been shaped by natural selection, but dogs have been shaped by humans. Many dog breeds look very different from their lupine ancestors, which can only be explained through careful breeding and selection for particular qualities by people. Sometimes this was done for practical purposes, such as herding or hunting. But in other cases the main concern was aesthetics, such as in poodles. Dog shows are essentially competitions in which animals are graded according to which have been genetically modified the 'best.'
Alba, the glowing bunny, an art project by Eduardo Kac.

So is it really different when we directly plant genes into organisms? Not really. Alba had a jellyfish gene that made her glow green under the right conditions. Yet some would say this is "playing god" and that any genetic modification is wrong. The truth is that humans have been playing with genetics for millennia, and will continue to do so. As long as we avoid abusing the animals, such as by creating animals whose genetic makeup causes them undue suffering, there isn't anything immoral about the practice. (Provided we also avoid the traps of eugenics.)


Fraser, Carolyn. "Dog Breed Chart Learn The Different Breeds." PetPictures. 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 May 2016

"Gray Wolf - Pictures, Facts, and Map." National Geographic Kids. National Geographic. Web. 08 May 2016.

Kac, Eduardo. "GFP BUNNY." KAC. Web. 08 May 2016.

Levy, Ellen. Defining Life: Artists Challenge Conventional Classifications. PDF.

Vesna, Victoria. "BioTech + Art Lecture Part 1." UC Online. UCLA.Web. 08 May 2016.