In the beginning of the night, Victoria started off with introducing LASER — a ‘Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous’ set around the world in either TEDTalk-like settings or casual monthly lecture talks swapping back and forth between north and south campus. With a cup of Trader Joe cookies in my hand, I sat in the front row eager and unsure what to expect. From what I discovered, LASER (at UCLA for that matter) was just an open space to discuss the different intersections of art and science collaborations in whatever capacity that means to each speaker. Cristina Albu gave a research based talk utilizing other artists’ works as case studies to validate her research, whereas Isla Hansen and Tucker Marder showcased their own work and how they fit in this art / science sphere, while Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau discussed the institution of Linz University of Arts. Each creator gave their own talk but with very different entry points, all enveloped in this general discussion of art and science.
My main take-aways from this talk was two things: 1) biofeedback in art is not a new concept and its rise is telling of humans as a technology-oriented society, and 2) art can be fun and having fun doesn’t devalue its contribution.
Biofeedback in Art
Last year in a Virtual Reality class with Jesse Fleming, I was the only student who played with pulse sensors to interact with the user in a VR headset. Viewers essentially went through a galactic journey in space while the planets and starts pulsed at the same heart rate in real time. Naively, I believed I was doing something new — something really bold even if it veered towards tech demo than art piece. However, Cristina Albu brought a whole new perspective.
Albu said, “The first biofeedback was with music.”
She gave examples such as Alex Hay who used muscular tension and breathing to produce sound, David Rosenboom who used alpha brain waves to turn on lights, and Nina Sobell who created brainwave drawings with participants. These explorations with the data produced from our bodies has been happening for years and I believe it has something to do with our modern obsession with users as content producers. As we have developments such as social media where the use of their technology is to create and produce content within that technology, we find ourselves more interested in how that kind of production can be mimicked with our body’s data creation.
Art can be Fun
In my notes, I wrote “ISLA” and “TUCKER” in all caps with two arrows pointing to these names with “SILLY PEOPLE” and two smiley faces. Isla’s work had a constant state of juxtaposition, with these inane ideas and their grounded contexts (ie. the onion factory with the onion chopping goggles to force tears, while having this really in-depth discussion on agricultural production, Hollywood, and our body responses). Tucker started his talk with a 3 minute video clip of a cardboard box club for scallops and clams in the ocean, without a single word of introduction. And they were hilarious. And they were profound. I find that as a young artist, I feel the need to prove my skill with a seriousness or eloquence to show that I’m a critical thinker. Yet, the reality is, Isla and Tucker engaged with much deeper topics and narratives that put into question our ecosystems and societies more directly with humor. Even with Isla’s modifiedpowerwheels.com, I thought to myself how people had already been doing this work for years and they never put it in a gallery space; but at the same time, Isla’s way of engaging with the very same forum made it a sculpture than a father’s hobby. Also, Tucker simply dyed a lake green to question reactions — changing the dynamic from an event that could be a joke to a social exploration. Crista and Laurent even had participants cradle pumpkins like children in order to send body pulses across various users.