Week 5 Response/ Nanotechnology and NanoArt

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This week we dig into the physics world and saw some art projects, installations, paintings and dances that involve physics concepts and phenomena. During the lecture, I was very impressed by the video of DanceRoom Spectroscopy. The dance uses human body as a manifestation of the movement of physical particles, which are usually too small for our eyes to see. This makes me think of the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology deals with the synthesis, manipulation and characterization of matter at the sub-100 nanometers level (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter) (http://nanoart.org). Artists working with nanotech have been making great contribution to new ideas and directions. Through the Wilson web links, I find many interesting aspects of NanoArt.

“NanoArt is a new art discipline at the art-science-technology intersections. It features nanolandscapes (molecular and atomic landscapes which are natural structures of matter at molecular and atomic scales) and nanosculptures (structures created by scientists and artists by manipulating matter at molecular and atomic scales using chemical and physical processes). These structures are visualized with powerful research tools like scanning electron microscopes and atomic force microscopes and their scientific images are captured and further processed by using different artistic techniques to convert them into artworks showcased for large audiences.”

This quote by Cris Orfescu adapted from the NanoArt website clearly defines the functionality of NanoArt in this technology age. It’s not only an artistic manifestation of nano scale reality, but also the process of making things in nano scale. “Every science begin as philosophy and ends as art,” said by Will Durant, Nanotechnology and NanoArt is making new things everyday.

The 2014 Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) Biennial featured many nanotechnology (http://cca.cornell.edu/?p=focus). The theme was “Intimate Cosmologies: The Aesthetics of Scale in an Age of Nanotechnology”.

I would like to introduce one NanoArt research project, which was also presented in the 2014 CCA Biennial, named Nanoessence, by Paul Thomas and Kevin Raxworthy. The main idea for Nanoessence is to explore the difference between death and life at a nano level, by investigating atomic structures and vibrations between living and dead skin cells. They use data from AFM (Atomic Force Microscope) skin cell scans to make the topographical visualizations of life and death. Part of their installation involves visual and sonic presentation through viewer interface, in which the display dynamically changes according to viewer’s own breath. The video demonstrates this installation as it’s in the gallery.

I am very amazed to see the artistic practices across all disciplines. The nanotech is definitely a massive world for scientists and artists to explore in the 21st century. There are many cases where nanotech has made benefits such as nano scale devices, nano computers in the fields of manufacuturing, medicine, environment and so on. Meanwhile, ethical issues raise as well. Like the project Nanoessence discussed above, its interactive installation of human breath has a strong conceptual and metaphorical link to a Biblical inception of life. The manipulation of nano scope things featured by nanotechnology is giving us more and more god-like powers, creating potential danger to our society, such as weapons. I believe if the researchers in this field can put together ethical guidelines, we should be able to see the promised benefits under the safe developments of Nanotech and NanoArt.

–Siyi Ye


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