Monday, April 25, 2011

April 21 DASER videos

The following are videos of the presentations from the April 21 DASER held in Washington DC:

Neural Control of Human Movement
Movement of the human body is incredibly complex—over 600 muscles control the motions of limbs, trunk, head, and eyes. Yet, in health, the nervous system accomplishes this with incredible precision and speed, and in a remarkably effortless manner. Bastian will discuss research in her laboratory addressing some of the challenges that the human nervous faces in movement control, how it overcomes them, and the effects of specific types of brain damage.

Amy Bastian is the Director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. She is also an Associate Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. After completing her undergraduate degree in Physical Therapy at the University of Oklahoma, Bastian completed a Ph.D. in Movement Science at Washington University in 1995, and a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuroscience at Washington University under Dr. W.T. Thach. Most recently, she was an Assistant Professor in Physical Therapy and the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She came to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in the summer of 2001.

Art, Science and Innovation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum offers a unique context for exploring the intersection of visual art, science, and technical invention. The Museum's historic building, once home to the US Patent Office, has been dedicated to American innovation and artistic talent for more than 150 years. Today, the American Art Museum is continuing the tradition of cross-disciplinary conversation with a wide range of exhibitions and programs. Marsh will discuss several of these projects, including the current exhibition Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow and the forthcoming, The Great American Hall of Wonders.

Joanna Marsh has been The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum since April 2007. She is responsible for research, exhibitions and acquisitions related to the museum's growing contemporary collection. Her research interests range from American art of the post-war period to recent developments in painting, sculpture and photography, with particular emphasis on emerging artists. Currently, she is working on a reinstallation of the permanent collection. She has organized several exhibitions for the museum including Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow (2010), Jean Shin: Common Threads (2009) and Local Color: Washington Painting at Midcentury (2008). During her tenure, the museum has acquired works by such artists as Walton Ford, Robert Longo, Kerry James Marshall, and Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

From Walls to Walkways: DIWOD & Open
Src Everything, Syncretic Methods for Exploring Consciousness
Festivals, research centers, and institutes are emerging that integrate art, science, and engineering in ways that activate local communities to creatively engage in cross-disciplinary dialogues and hands-on learning projects in hopes of influencing their culture and improving their social and physical environments. Medialab-Prado, Dorkbot and Hacker Spaces, SCIIART at UCLA, SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia, are a few that bring together a range of fields to form syncretic dialogues through research and creative practice. The FUNcolab is a transdisciplinary initiative at Gallaudet University with the goal of bringing together art, science, and theater into a unified space that fosters philosophical exchange, creative investigation, and hands on collaboration.
Max Kazemzadeh is an emergent media artist and tenure-track Assistant Professor of Art & Media Technology at Gallaudet University who investigates the relationships between art, technology, and consciousness in his research, creative experiments, and interactive installations. He recently founded an interdisciplinary art, science, performance research center at Gallaudet University called the FUNCOLAB. He is pursuing a Ph.D. within the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth, UK where he is investigating Apophenia and Pareidolia as counterpoints in modeling creativity and deriving meaning from patterns of unintentional gesture.

Contemporary Art Informed by Science:
The Smithsonian's Artist Research Fellowship

How can museums capitalize on interdisciplinary work? The Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) is a path-breaking program that encourages cross disciplinary interaction at a creative and empirical level that involves logic and play, observation and analysis, and time to examine and discuss data and discoveries. The SARF program builds on a history of discovery through the cross fertilization of the arts and sciences. Milosch will talk about past and recent SARF recipients and some of the exchange these projects have engendered.

Jane Milosch is the Director of the Smithsonian's Provenance Research Initiative in the Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture (OUSHAC), Smithsonian Institution. From 2008 to 2009, she was Senior Program Officer for Art in OUSHAC, directing pan-institutional art programs, new interdisciplinary initiatives, and strategic planning efforts for the arts at the Smithsonian's eight art units. From 2004 to 2008, she served as the chief curator at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where she led fundraising efforts, secured more than 200 acquisitions and developed critically-acclaimed exhibitions. She began her museum career in 1990 at the Detroit Institute of the Arts in the Department of 20th-Century Art, Decorative Arts, and Design.

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the DASER events are those of the panelists and speakers and do not necessarily reflect the positions neither of the National Academy of Sciences nor of Leonardo.
For more information on upcoming DASER events please visit To learn more about the work of the National Academy of Sciences visit

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ecological Fiction: Andrew Wingfield

Andrew Wingfield is a locally based fiction writer whose work explores the ways that people and places shape each other. He has written a novel that deals with human-mountain lion interactions in the northern California suburbs and, most recently, a collection of short stories that are all set in the same gentrifying neighborhood inside the Capital Beltway. He takes what he refers to as an ecological approach to writing fiction. That is, he’s interested not only in the relationships his human characters have with each other but also in the relationships his characters have with the other organisms around them, and with the spaces they share with these organisms. Andrew is interested in fiction that approaches questions of community in a more ecological sense of that word than is usually used in connection with literature.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Alberto Gaitán and Cross-pollinators

Alberto Gaitán is a multi-media artist living and working in the DC area since 1980. He has worked collaboratively in cross-media projects with musicians, poets, choreographers, visual artists, software programmers and engineers, and has built solo pieces that mashup different disciplines. He will be talking about the quest for common ground during collaborative creation, the qualitative difference between work he's done as a solo practitioner versus that done collectively, and his efforts to build community around interdisciplinary exploration by heading Dorkbot DC and helping spawn HacDC.

Alberto Gaitán, panelist for the March 2011 DASER, talked about his work and community.  The following is the transcript from the vidoe of Alberto's talk presented on March 16, 2011 at the Keck Center, Washington DC.

When I think of why I have such a keen interest in interdisciplinary approaches to most things, all I have to do is remember that there was a time when I could play the guitar and thought I’d be a guitarist all my life.

Unchecked arthritis is like a slow-motion car wreck: slowly robbing you of things you once took for granted. Alas, about 10 years into my life as a guitarist, it became obvious that I would not be able to play for much longer. As painful as it was to leave my instrument behind, I continued to study art history and took up piano, playing it unconventionally, but nonetheless. This wasn't enough for my faculty advisor, though and I was urged to find a more fitting course of study.

I decided to study wildlife biology. There, I learned about the natural world and became especially interested in evolutionary ecology and its systems. I was fascinated how the core requirements for a bachelor's degree in biology interrelated. For example, how I was using a formula from information theory that modeled noise in a transmission channel to predict the species variability
within a habitat, and how the same concepts that were used to describe the economy of nature were used to model markets in economics, how coral reefs were like markets—with pulsing cycles of production and consumption—producers and consumers whose daily and evolutionary strategies were shaped by their environment, how events at the cosmological scale came to affect even the smallest community of organisms.

In the end, what I really wanted to do in biology turned out to be just as impossible for me as playing the guitar. There was no way I'd survive for long in the wilds of the Amazon, collecting data for a thesis on speciation. But, I had been taught to adapt, and I left my formal study of biology with a new understanding of evolutionary processes and an exciting taste of the then-newly-minted analogy between organic and cultural evolution called memetics.

Adapt Or Perish became my motto. It was a familiar strategy.

After all, my nearly-blind father helped raise and put 6 children through college.  His job as a diplomat took us to may countries and the point was always made never to live in ex-pat enclaves. I was taught to drink deeply from all our host cultures. I internalized a love for cultural diversity and grew to understand cultural relativity on an intuitive level. Every few years we were challenged to learn new things and re-learn some things that we had previously taken for
settled knowledge. We were rewarded with new insights on the commonality between human societies even while they appeared so different on their surfaces.  I returned to music via the then-newly available personal computer. I embarked on learning this new topic with some weariness but determined in my knowledge that this would be the answer to my body's decreasing capacity to help me attain any kind of virtuosity with conventional musical instruments. I came to understand how much of what I had previously learned also applied to this new field. Edsger W. Dijkstra once famously stated that computer science is as much about computers as astronomy is about telescopes. Within these boxes of—to me—inscrutable components, I could envision creating entire universes of possibility, universes that mirrored my increasingly interconnected world view, universes that could become as an ecosystem is to the biosphere, as a neuron is to a brain...that could become almost anything.

With the slimmest of actual research into the topic, I’m convinced that our life, with its mainstreams, tributaries, dead-ends, and engineering projects, shares a great deal with how our brains develop and adapt. In the late 1940s a neuroscientist named Hibb best illustrated how our brains can turn habitual behaviors—so-called associative learning—into bureaucracies of neural tissue called engrams. With enough practice we turn parts of our neuroanatomy into component-like circuits that can fire off without a second thought. And, when we lose one physical ability we can re-learn with great plasticity. We deal with change and adversity by adapting...learning.

The romantic notion of the artist, laboring in solitude, an island of genius awaiting discovery, never sounded right to me. Too much of my creativity fed on other ideas. I also observed how, periodically, great weather-like patterns of notion enveloped the scientific and art communities, self-organizing until there sometimes emerged, a disruptive consensus-notion.

I decided I needed to surround myself with artists and technologists, a pool of cross-pollinators from which new aesthetic forms could evolve. I volunteered with, curated arts programming, and eventually joined the board of DC's preeminent alternative art spaces. I did what I could to build community and present work to new audiences.

My public life as an artist began with collaboration. I was interested in the intersection of different artistic disciplines and aesthetic positions. After a few years I joined a collective. Art Attack International, a core group of four artists, created temporary, site-specific installations, always in situ, mostly in public space, always as a result of intensive brain-storming, promiscuous and completely unqualified interdisciplinary meddling, vigorous intra-group defense of ideas, and majority rule; always presenting work under the factory name. It was a utopian by committee but with deliberative techniques rigorously developed into procedural components at the service of The Work. Although tacitly political, we never wore it on our sleeves nor articulated it unless called to. We operated outside the gallery system and sometimes outside the law.

A good deal of time later I began my solo practice. Although continuing to reinforce my connection with the communities and networks I had become part of, I turned my attention to my own concerns. I helped found and currently run the DC branch of Dorkbot (, a special interest group of artist-technologists. I also helped spawn and have an on-going relationship with DC's first hacker space, HacDC ( It took me awhile to get technologists into the mix but I now see—thanks in part to a growing pile of obsolete tech and the descending price-point of many hi tech tools—a great crucible has formed for interdisciplinary communities who have re-invented the collage/remix culture presaged by 20th Century artists, and the syntheses manifest in the sciences over the past 120 years; to repurpose, reuse, mutate material culture at the grass-roots level creating a massive economy and new forms of aesthetic expression in the process.

I leave you with two images, one is a piece called Remembrancer, which worked over 4 weeks to create three canvases using key-word data collected from online sources, each with a different frame of reference. The red panel looked at local/regional keywords, the blue panel at national keywords, and the green panel at global keywords. Over time, the sum of those keywords mentioned with the greatest frequency caused more paint to deposit at a given point. The second is a piece called “Still” that was shown on November & December of 2010 at American University Museum's Katzen Arts Center as part of Washington Project for the Arts' 35th Anniversary. My long association with the venerable WPA prompted me to create a piece about connection and how I believe it affect artists' successful pursuit of their passion. Over 5 weeks, it used my daily movements around the region, as recorded on my phone's GPS logger, to map my distance from the piece by squirting water onto a pile of powdered plaster. The further I was from it the longer the squirt.

Both these pieces address the difficulty inherent in recording experience and while leveraging inter-connectedness, create documents that are unreadable to any level of certainty.

So, why do I work in an interdisciplinary manner? Because everything is connected.

DASER is a monthly discussion forum on art and science projects in the national capital region. DASER strives to provide the public with a snapshot of the cultural environment of the region and to foster community and discussion around the intersection of disciplines.  The thoughts and opinions expressed in the DASER events are those of the panelists and speakers and do not necessarily reflect the positions neither of the National Academy of Sciences nor of Leonardo.
For more information on upcoming DASER events please visit  To learn more about the work of the National Academy of Sciences visit

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Technology as a Means for Engagement

Posted on behalf of Heather Barto, student, Masters in Museum Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University
As a new student in the museum studies program at Johns Hopkins University, I was fortunate enough to attend the March 16 DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous.  This was an exceptionally educational and informative discussion from a diverse group of panelists.  Currently studying technology in museums with JD Talasek, I was interested in technology as a means for engagement and also as medium for artists. 
The Coral Reef Project was such an effective and productive use of technology to engage the community. I was able to view the exhibit and found it impactful from an art and environmental standpoint. How have other museums or community involvement projects used social media to engage participants as well as provide awareness?  Has this project effected the museum's planning for future exhibits? The institution and the participants found value in the project, can these groups be utilized again for future exhibitions?

I also thought that Alberto Gaitán's use of technology in multimedia art was an interesting way to involve social media. How has his work on "Remembrancer" changed his view of social media? How has it changed other artists' views? His pieces are a reflection of technology's integration into art and our daily lives. How can social media be used in the future to convey such powerful statements through art?