All posts by Rebecca Blocksome

Red Hot Research No. 15

red hot research logo

4:00 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5

The Commons at Spooner Hall

Back for the fall semester! Several of this week’s presenters collaborate with the Museum on various projects–Paul Atchley is working with ARC on the “Performing History” game app, and Bonnie Johnson was in the galleries last week with her History and Theory of Planning course. Come hear about their research and enjoy good food and drink at the best interdisciplinary networking event on campus.

The full lineup for this week runs as follows:

Ruth Ann Atchley (Psychology); Paul Atchley (Psychology)

Shannon Portillo (Public Affairs & Administration)

Clarence Lang (African and African American Studies, American Studies)

Bonnie Johnson (Urban Planning)

Byron Darby (Design)

Red Hot Research is a series of research sharing sessions that aims to introduce KU researchers to the work of their colleagues, stimulating multidisciplinary inquiry and the formation of new collaborative research teams.  The format of Red Hot Research sessions is inspired by Pecha Kucha.

Red Hot Research No. 14

red hot research logo

4:00 p.m. Friday, April 11

The Commons at Spooner Hall

Don’t miss the SMA’s own Steve Goddard, speaking on Botany and the Arts! The full lineup of presenters this week runs as follows:

Promotheth Chatterjee (Business): Payment Mechanisms’ Influence on Consumer Purchases

Ward Lyles (Urban Planning): Climate Change Adaptation

Steve Goddard (Spencer Museum of Art/Art History): Botany and the Arts

EcoHawks with Chris Depcik (Mechanical Engineering): Sustainable Energy

Leigh Stearns (Geology): Greenland Glaciers & Climate Change

Red Hot Research is a series of research sharing sessions that aims to introduce KU researchers to the work of their colleagues, stimulating multidisciplinary inquiry and the formation of new collaborative research teams.  The format of Red Hot Research sessions is inspired by Pecha Kucha.

Red Hot Research No. 13

red hot research logo

4:00 p.m. Friday, March 28

The Commons at Spooner Hall

This week’s lineup:

Dave Tell (Communication Studies): Grain Elevators and Postmodernity

Hajar Aghababa (Institute for Policy and Social Research): Early Literacy

Marc Greenberg (Germanic Languages & Literatures), Ada Emmett (KU Libraries), Town Peterson (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology): Open Access and Bottlenecks in a Global Scholarly Communication System

Gregory Rudnick (Physics & Astronomy): The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies

Jeremy Martin (Mathematics): Network Flow Models

Red Hot Research is a series of research sharing sessions that aims to introduce KU researchers to the work of their colleagues, stimulating multidisciplinary inquiry and the formation of new collaborative research teams.  The format of Red Hot Research sessions is inspired by Pecha Kucha.

Lecture by Lawrence Weschler: Art and Science as Parallel and Divergent Ways of Knowing

Wednesday, March 26, 7:00 – 8:00 PM
Spencer Museum of Art, 309 Auditorium
Artists and scientists tend to think of their ways of probing the world as distinctly different. Such was not always the case. In the spirit of the Spencer’s exhibition James Turrell: Gard Blue, longtime New Yorker writer Lawrence Weschler—Emeritus Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU and author of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder and Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences—explores this subject, with side-discussions on artists David Hockney and (Turrell’s fellow Light and Space master) Robert Irwin, subjects of two of his most recent biographies.
Can’t wait to hear Weschler in person? Check out his books!
Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: Thirty Years of Conversations with Robert Irwin
True to Life: Twenty-five Years of Conversations with David Hockney

The beauty of math

In honor of Pi Day, a little math news:

Euler's identity

BBC Science & Environment reports that the human brain responds to “beautiful” mathematical formulae in the same way it responds to “beautiful” works of art. Euler’s identity (above) was rated the most beautiful formula by mathematicians in the study–and while I do not have the background to fully appreciate the math involved, even I find it astonishingly beautiful! Srinivasa Ramanujan’s infinite series and Riemann’s functional equation were considered the ugliest formulae in the study.

Artist profile: Gail Wight


I had the pleasure of hearing artist Gail Wight speak at a symposium organized by the Wichita Art Museum and the Ulrich Museum of Art in conjunction with two recent art-science exhibitions, Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art and Invention at the Ulrich, and Vital Signs: New Media Art from the San Jose Museum of Art at WAM. Wight is an associate professor of art at Stanford University whose work critiques the practice of science in imaginative and sometimes humorous ways. On of my favorite pieces that she discussed was Rodentia Chamber Music, a set of five musical instruments (piano, carillon, drum, harp, and cello) built partially of plexiglas with hollow interiors. Several mice inhabit these interiors, where they “play” the instruments by tripping various switches and sensors. The idea is to work with the mice as collaborators, rather than as objects or specimens.

Wight’s work appeals to me not only because of its humor, but also because of the depth of her engagement with the ideas of science as well as the forms of science. Despite her inclusion in the new media exhibition at WAM, I do not see technology as a central concern of her work. While it frequently involves technology, the technology is not the focus of the work: there is meaning beyond creating objects that look cool or do tricks. As a review of Wight’s work in the journal Nature notes, Wight employs art to understand science from the perspective of an “outsider” who nonetheless inhabits a world largely constructed by science.

“She [Wight] is an ‘artist of science’ in the same way that there are historians and sociologists of science. Wight explores the habits and history of science by using its materials as her materials, and producing art that serves both as work open to interpretation and as a pointed appraisal of scientific analysis.”

To see more of Wight’s work, visit her online portfolio.

Unfortunately, both of the exhibitions in Wichita have closed, but you can find more information and the exhibition catalog for Nature’s Toolbox at Art Works for Change.

The studio and the laboratory


As part of my current research on comparative epistemologies of art, science, and religion, I came across an excellent essay by Svetlana Alpers: “The Studio, the Laboratory, and the Vexations of Art.” Alpers begins with the admitted aim of comparing and contrasting the workplaces of art and science, considering the studio as represented in 17th-century Dutch painting in relation to the 17th-century “house of experiment” in the Baconian model. She notes, however, that the analogy breaks down due to the consistent pictorial representation of the studio through the lens of individual experience, while the laboratory more overtly incorporates assistants and even the general public. While the model of solitary work may not be historically accurate (many artists had assistants, not to mention live models and even household servants in the studio), it is at least conceptually accurate: the representation of the studio is not only a visual representation, but also a representation of bodily experience, and phenomenology always starts from the individual. This has interesting implications for the truth value of art and science, respectively:

What I am invoking is not a personal matter. It has to do with how every individual establishes a relationship with the world. One of the vexations of art is man. In the laboratory, by contrast, the impact of the interference of the human observer in an account of natural phenomena was neither acknowledged nor taken into account until modern times, and then with a different effect. … It is possible to argue that the practice of painting was ahead of the practice of science in regard to the observer. The truth of this might account, at least in part, for the studio’s enduring life (Alpers 404).

Alpers goes on to discuss the evolution of studio to landscape as a site and motif for painting in the 18th and 19th centuries. She holds up Cezanne as emblematic of this transfiguration, in which landscape comes to be treated–constructed–in the same way as the elements of a still life in a studio. This in turn suggests a parallel transformation of scientific experimentation in the late 19th century, when C.T.R. Wilson’s cloud chamber at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge came to be used for observing subatomic particles. It is a change from mimetic experimentation–reproducing meteorological effects in the cloud chamber–to analytic experimentation–studying the actual particles that constituted those effects.


Alpers’ analysis is admittedly preliminary and incomplete, but it offers some provocative ideas on the way the sites of science and art are instrumental in the knowledge they respectively produce. You can find the whole essay in the book Picturing Science, Producing Art, edited by Caroline A. Jones and Peter Galison (public library).

Call for proposals: ArtsIT (deadline Feb. 28, 2014)

bridgeNow in its fourth edition, ArtsIT has become a leading scientific forum for the dissemination of cutting-edge research in the area of arts, design and technology. The conference (6-8 November 2014, Istanbul, Turkey) aims to bring together leading researchers and practitioners from academia, the arts and industry to present their innovative work and discuss all aspects and challenges in a stimulating environment. The main focus of this edition of ArtsIT is to present participants with tools, systems, models, artworks, performances, shows and empirical studies that may enrich the possibilities for artists and creative people of working with new media technologies. The call for papers is aimed at people across a wide spectrum of interests and disciplines including computer science, design, arts, sociology, anthropology and psychology. Deadline to submit: 28 February 2014. Find out more at

Call for submissions: Hangar Art Center Spring Sessions (deadline Jan. 31, 2014)

Hangar is a centre for arts production and research in Barcelona, Spain, set up by the Association of Visual Arts of Catalonia (AAVC) in 1997. It provides support facilities for artists and designers and offers services adapted to production needs associated with the arts world. Hangar has issued an open call for their second edition of Spring Sessions, a series of intensive and interdisciplinary meetings between artists and other professionals to develop larger research projects. The call is addressed to collaborative projects that carry out theoretical and/or practical research while contributing to the transfer of knowledge between different disciplines. This year’s edition will take place over the course of one week between February and April and four weeks during the month of June; it seeks to support projects that address the issue of transferability in the field of art, science and technology. Deadline to submit: 31 January 2014. For more information, please see

Call for proposals: Subtle Technologies (deadline Jan. 20, 2014)


In May 2014, Subtle Technologies will be holding its 17th annual festival in Toronto, Canada. The symposium, performances, workshops, screenings, exhibitions and networking sessions will provide a forum to explore ideas and pose questions at the intersection of art, science and technology. Subtle Technologies is known internationally for presenting artists and scientists whose work is at the cutting edge of their respective disciplines and creating a space for dialogue that leads to future discussions and collaborations. The theme for 2014 is “Open Culture.” The festival will celebrate the ways artists and scientists are creating and making use of tools and techniques to harness the collective power, knowledge and creativity of the citizen. Subtle Technologies is currently accepting proposals by artists, curators and scientists for exhibitions, performances, symposium presentations, posters, screenings and workshops that address the theme of Open Culture. Deadline to submit: 20 January 2014. Find out more at