Archive for the ‘ExtraCredit’ Category

Extra_Credit North/South Mixer: a Post-Class reflection by Richard Jin

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

North/South Mixer –

Ten weeks ago, I went to the North/South Mixer with a couple of the people I had just met in class. I think reflecting on this experience ten weeks later – because like a typical college student I’ve procrastinated this post to the max – it brings a different perspective on the event than if I blogged about it immediately afterwards.

Upon entering the CNSI building, I had no idea what to expect. How many of the people would be from class? Would I be able to carry on an extended conversation with any of them? However, when I walked in I was surprised to see that the majority of the audience consisted of adults. There were a couple of students clustered here and there, but I could tell that it was a little awkward. I joined in on a group of people from our class and we introduced ourselves – our names, majors, interests. We were a very eclectic group of students, business/econ majors, biochemistry majors, engineering majors, material science majors, and history majors. After the traditional greetings were made, there were a lot of awkward pauses. I could tell most of us were trying to think of something interesting to say to break the silence; however, nothing came to mind. In the end we resorted to asking “So, what do we do now? Are we supposed to mingle with the adults?” Most of us were confused, it was supposed to be a mixer, but after all of the formal introductions we had run out of things to say.

 Fortunately, we there was an art exhibit there for us to explore.  We walked through the nanoparticle/speaker exhibit and once again, were utterly confused. What followed was perhaps the most interesting part of the night. We all tried to figure out what the white speakers were saying to us, what it meant, and what the purpose of the exhibit was. Coming from different backgrounds, it was interesting to note the various interpretations each of us had and how we went about analyzing the exhibit. I felt as if the north campus majors were more interested in what the speakers were actually saying, whereas the south campus majors were trying to figure out how the sensors worked. Together I felt as if we thoroughly dissected the piece, and many people brought to my attention a lot of things that I didn’t even consider exploring. In the end we decided what the speakers actually said corresponded to our proximity to the speaker box sensors. There was nothing unique about it. It didn’t matter who stood in front it, the set of speakers just ran an audio clip on loop.

In the end, we decided even though collectively we figured out how it worked, we couldn’t understand the purpose of the exhibit. But it was this artwork that brought our minds and focused it to a common goal.

I contrast this experience/mixer to the one that I just came back from - the mixer at CNSI right after the last lecture. I looked around the room and I realized we weren’t so awkward around each other anymore. We have plenty to say, perhaps it was the realization that between us, there isn’t a huge chasm, but rather, despite our different interests, they can and are related in one fashion or another. My group of friends joined another group of people and we talked about various topics discussed in class – the interesting, the dull, and our perspectives on its purpose in the world.

Juxtaposing these mixers, it is evident that the class has opened up our eyes, and broadened our scope of view; there is no longer strictly a north or south campus, but rather, an intermingling of both.

by Richard Jin

Extra Credit: Sound + Science Symposium by Kimberlie Shiao

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I went to the Sound and Science Symposium on Friday, attending James Marston’s talk on “Using Audio Cues to Enhance Navigation and Spatial Learning for the Blind”. Marston is conducting research at UCSB to improve the ease of mobility for the visually impaired, and is visually impaired himself. As he began the lecture, I was surprised by the number of blind or visually impaired people there are- about ten percent of the population and the majority of them are unemployed. This is mainly because they have difficulty independently interacting with the outside world, especially new environments, and thus a number of them stay at home.
In some Asia countries, like Japan, the busier streets have bumpy yellow tiles in the sidewalk (or floor of train stations) for blind people to follow (with different bump patterns for where a turn or crosswalk is, and busy intersections will often have audio cues for crossing), but I don’t think I have ever seen anyone using them. I suspect these tiles don’t actually provide much freedom to a blind person, as it assumes the blind person knows where he or she is going (or that he/she is merely wandering around the city for fun). The technology Marston works with, UCSB’s Personal Guidance System and Talking Signs, aims to remedy this lack of environmental cues. A GPS and device (which can either beep or vibrate on the user’s wrist) helps indicate whether or not the person is facing in the right direction. The device also talks, telling the user how far to go. The more helpful aspect is the Talking Signs, which has the device read out locations in the direction the device is pointed in. Unlike the GPS, Talking Signs is really helpful for blind people because it gives more accurate directions (a GPS doesn’t know which way you’re facing), can be used indoors, and can be used to indicate locations such as “water fountain” or “book store.”
I think Talking Signs is a fantastic way to allow blind people independent mobility. It gives them a good mental map of the area, allowing the blind to take shortcuts they wouldn’t have realized otherwise (a efficiency problem for the blind I never thought of). There is also an excellent amount of precision allowing navigation on the paths of parks. The main draw back to Talking Signs is that it might be hard to install widely and maintain. With Braille, it is fairly easy to make, put up and switch signs (though, I doubt they’re used much, since how would the blind know the sign is there in the first place?) Talking Signs would probably be more expensive, requiring devices to emit the infrared signal and might be difficult to change the message if, say, the bookstore was replaced with a coffee shop. But I think with time, many major public areas such as public transportation terminals and government buildings, would have Talking Signs installed. Businesses could also be encouraged to install Talking Signs because of the new customers it would bring. If a good number of the blind used this technology (hopefully user cost wouldn’t be an issue), and major buildings and stores had Talking Signs installed, I think it could really help these people move around in society again.

-Kimberlie Shiao

Extra Credit-Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic- Idy Tam

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

After attending to David Szanto’s presentation on the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Northern Italy, I learned both about both the Slow Food Organization and the university. One of the main questions that Szanto’s focused on is “What is Gastronomy?” Szanto explained the definition as the “law of the stomach”, with “gaster” meaning stomach and “nomia” meaning law.  He then proceeded to talk about the connection between food and culture. I began to reflect how important certain foods are to certain cultures, regardless to its nutrition values. In addition, people immediately associate, let’s say, Italians with pasta, Japanese with sushi, and Americans? What is strange is that Americans are widely known as fast food consumers.

Szanto’s presentation about Slow Food explained about an organization aimed against the idea of fast food. The organization was founded in 1989 to offset the concept of fast life and to endorse the idea of “truly tasting food.” In the capitalistic America, the busy streets and busy life, leaves many people a limited amount of time to really enjoy a healthy and delicious meal. Many busy people are left with the choice to drive their cars through the McDonald’s drive through and order themselves a “quick” meal, which consists of a big mac meal, supersized, with 20 pieces of chicken nuggets and an ice cream sundae. Probably most people would not order that much for themselves for one meal, but if we calculate the calories and fat content in this meal, it exceeds what one should consume in several days.

Szanto demonstrated that although eating is a need for daily living, the idea of eating to enjoy has become lost in many cultures, like that of the American. He also mentioned that Slow Food is aimed to protect the heritage of food. If we help spread this concept of preserving the importance of how food is for a culture, we can encourage people to stay away from fast food. We can probably develop a certain dish that people can associate with the Americans. In addition, Szanto also introduced us to the University of Gastronomic Sciences and the classes that the program has to offer.  He explained that most of the courses dealt with food and that there would even be many opportunities for students to go to different places to explore the food of different cultures.

When I saw first saw the name of the presentation, it really reminded me of the movie Fast Food Nation. If Eric Schlosser had addressed the Slow Food organization as a resolution to the obesity problem in America, it might work out! The Slow Food Organization has several objectives, which is forming and sustaining seed banks to preserve heirloom varieties in cooperation with local food systems, preserving and promoting local and traditional food products, along with their lore and preparation, educating consumers about the risks of fast food, and more. Through this, they desire to provide “good, clean, fair” food.

Extra Credit- David Szanto By Mary Tam

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

On Friday, February 27, I went to David Szanto’s presentation. His presentation was on the Slow Food Organization that was created in Northern Italy at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. He is a graduate at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and he actively volunteers for his school to teach other what slow food really is. It was interesting how he asked people what gastronomy is and many people did not know what it means. Then he explains to everyone what the word means by breaking the word up into “gaster” and “nomia.” The two words mean stomach and law respectively. According to David Szanto, the Slow Food Organization’s purpose is to inform others what slow food really means and what fast food is doing to many people today. The main objective of the organization is to eliminate fast food chains and incorporate healthy, “slow” food in our lives.

Many people around the world today, especially Americans are becoming obese because of the convenient fast food restaurants that are prevalent in America. David Szanto said those are not real food and in order to taste the true essence of food, people have to eat slow food. It is real food that includes all the necessary nutrients. Fast food to me, seem to all taste the same. There are not that many variations. It is very redundant and all I can think of, when I hear the word fast food is hamburgers, fries, and a heart attack waiting to come. Many people know fast food is unhealthy for them, but they continue to go to fast food restaurants because it is affordable and convenient. If everyone spends the time to drive or walk to a fast food restaurant, they can go to the nearest supermarket and stock up on fruits, vegetable, and make many easy meals. I really enjoy cooking good meals. I wish one day I can make a difference too by going on Food Network and teach Americans how to make Slow Food fast and good.

The Slow Food Organization is also here in America. David Szanto tries to inform us about what food is good fair and clean. The word good can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. When it comes to slow food, the idea of good means enjoying delicious food created with care from healthy plants and animals. The pleasures of good food can also help to build society and celebrate culture and regional diversity. When we talk about clean food, we are talking about nutritious food that is as good for the planet as it is for our bodies. It is grown and harvested with methods that have a positive impact on our local ecosystems and promotes biodiversity. We believe that food is a universal right. Food that is fair should be accessible to all, regardless of income, and produced by people who are treated with dignity and justly compensated for their labor.

This book shows what fast food really does to us.

Extra_Credit Sound and Science Symposium by Richard Jin

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Sound and Science Symposium – Gabor’s Sonic Model: A Research Review

The section of the Sound and Science Symposium I attended was lecture by Curtis Roads, a professor at UC Riverside, on Gabor’s Sonic Model and the research currently being down with this model as its basis as it relates to electronic music.

Although I was unable to comprehend a great deal of the lecture –the target audience of the lecture being audiophiles and music theorists – I found that for the most part, the portion of the lecture I could understand was pretty interesting. Roads first went into primitive traditional electronic sound, the basis of electronic sound today. On this level, the sounds that were being produced consisted of a great deal of beeping, buzzing, knocks – very computerized “music.” Though, in my interpretation of the word “music” I wouldn’t consider what I heard music.

Then he went on to discuss the fundamental differences between acoustic sound and electronic sound. He played a clip of an orchestra and asked if anyone could tell him whether it was produced by humans or by a machine. I could not, but by the way he posed the question, I assumed it was made by a computer. I think it’s amazing what computers can produce now. Electronic music can essentially mimic acoustic music, eliminating the need for true artists/musicians.

Electronic Music mimicking Acoustic Music (sorry for the bad quality, I have a recorded it from the lecture on my computer)

In his discussion of the difference between acoustic and electronic music, he outlined the major advantages of electronic music over acoustic:

1.      Liberation of sound. Electronic music is not confined traditional notes. There is a heterogeneity, of sound; not static or fixed, but it can evolve/mutate on the microsound level (i.e. each grain of sound can be different). Essentially it is not confined to common music notation.

2.      Virtual reality of composition programs. Music is no longer confined to one place, but rather, can electronic sound can be imposed on any virtual setting like a church, a cathedral, a lecture hall, with reverberation and constructed sound effects.

3.      The composer is the performer. There is no need for an extravagant orchestra or band.

4.      The notation of music in electronic music is graphical, not structural, allowing for a full range of sound.

5.      Frequency precision allows for polytonal constructions, pitch vs. noise.

6.      Temporal precision allows for the construction of precise rhythms and eliminates the need for meter.

7.      Memorized control and algorithmic control, let’s a composer handle more layers and depth of music than capable


Electronic music essentially allows the composer to focus on different aspects of music compared to the traditional composer can because it can focus on smaller time intervals and more precision.Electronic Music


However, the setback of electronic music is that there is no aesthetic component to it. Roads mentioned the Phillips Pavilion which is a concert hall for electronic music. If it is just a hall full of speakers, I believe that in some regards, the music is missing something, almost as if it were just cold and mechanical despite its precision and beauty. When he first mentioned the Phillips Pavilion and described it, I immediately thought of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley where the citizens when to “The Feelies” a concert hall where “At the beginning of the movie a scent organ spills a diversity of fragrances through the theatre and delights the audience by smells of rosemary, lavender or sandalwood and new-mown hay. After that a music machine produces sounds of synthetic music and warbling human voices that changes its heights every couple of seconds to fascinate the listeners. The “feely” effects are caused by metal knobs on the arms of “pneumatic” chairs” (Groth, Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World - Entertainment for the Masses).


Phillips Pavilion

Phillips Pavilion


As for the research, Roads went into some of the research he was doing with Gabor’s Model which included pulsar synthesis which includes a special separation of formance, something not possible in acoustic music. This allows composers to go in between form and rhythm. Other research includes emission control, which is essentially a voice modulator which can control inflections in sound/voice, tone, and speed without compromising pitch. The Perhaps the most interesting proposal Roads made was the notion that we have programs which can superimpose a setting on music (set a piece in a cathedral or a bedroom, reverberation techniques), however it would be interesting to develop a program which can take a piece and then extract the reverberation to construct the architecture of the building it was most likely played in.


However, although electronic music provides a new method in which we can delve further into music, I feel that in order for music to be experienced in its entirety or fullness, there needs to be a component of humanity in it.

By Richard jin

Invisible Earthlings! by Khoa Truong-N

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

To say the least, the exhibit “Invisible Earthlings was not exactly what I expected when I entered the obscure room in the CNSI.  Extremely casual is definitely one way I could characterize the atmosphere of the exhibit. On the walls were the exhibits; in this case, samples of microbes and on a small table in the corner of the room were two bottles of wine and a cheese tasting plate.  It was as if I had stepped from the campus of a university into the quaint studio loft of an artist.  I have to admit, it was a little awkward at first since I was one of the first people there, but after more people arrived and more wine was consumed, the vibe became much friendlier.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do, or what the purpose of the exhibit was for that matter.  Upon closer examination though, I discovered that the samples of bacteria were actually taken from Beatriz da Costa’s (the artist) backyard.  The Nokia touch-pads were a little buggy at the start, but once they became fully functional, the exhibit itself made much more sense.  It was interesting to see how many common places around the home were habitats for microbes.  I had always known that tiny little organisms surrounded us, but I had no idea that there were such a wide variety of them!  There were definitely some bizarre-looking microbes, and I have to say that I probably won’t be groping any metal fences any time soon.  Overall, it only took me about half an hour to peruse through the various samples.  The next thing that I noticed was the quote/passage inscribed on the wall.  It was something Beatriz da Costa had written about the “Invisible Earthlings”.  Basically, it just talked about the relationships between microbes and humans, and the claim that we sometimes take them for granted.  I agree with the statement that our species takes other species, especially the wee ones, for granted.  Looking at our past and current deeds—massive deforestation, a smorgasbord of pollution, global warming, endangering too many species too count—I think I may know why we take microbes for granted.  Believing that we are the most intelligent beings on this planet, we often discard the other beings we deem too weak, dumb, or small. Unfortunately, this type of arrogance could severely damage us unless we fix it.  Some microbes can work their way into our bodies, and if they go untreated, could kill us.    Like da Costa is saying in her exhibit, microbes are everywhere, and we must face that fact sooner than later.
Seeing the various organisms definitely got me thinking about how we as humans sometimes only see ourselves on this planet.  On the contrary, it is mind-boggling how many other beings are here with us, some in our own rooms.  Of course, there are thousands of microorganisms that help us out everyday as well.  In fact, many of them live inside of our bodies and work with our own systems to keep us healthy.  Once we distinguish between the good and the bad microbes, then we can utilize the good ones for our benefit.  For example, scientists today are using microbes such as bacteria to help produce more of the drugs that humans need to fight diseases such as malaria.  Seeing all these new developments sprout up gives me hope that we can finally begin to appreciate the microbes that play such a large role in our lives.

The title of “Invisible Earthlings” is a fairly accurate one.  Microbes are nearly invisible to the naked eye, yet they are still considered as earthlings as well.  Beatriz da Costa’s exhibit was a simple piece, but at the same time, its message was loud and clear: microbes share this planet with us too and we better realize that.  Fortunately, we are beginning to understand this fact, but there are still many people out there who have never even heard of microbes.  I believe that if more works like da Costa’s are exhibited, more of the public will be able to see the millions of microbes they couldn’t see before.


-Khoa Truong-N

Particle Group Installation set-up Extra Credit blog by Khoa Truong-N

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Sometime in the early weeks of DESMA 9, I had the opportunity to help the renowned artist Nina Waisman build her installation here at UCLA.  In class, we had merely brushed upon the subject of nanotechnology, so I was fairly curious on how nanotechnology could be integrated into a work of art.  When my friends and I arrived at the California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI), we saw trash bags, white boxes, and wires sprawled throughout the surface of the concrete floor.  At first glance, I wasn’t even sure that we were at the right place.  However, as the hours went by, the piece began to take shape, and the boxes and wires that had been all over place were now in the desired positions.  But even with the piece near completion, I still didn’t know what exactly the installation was or what its purpose was.  After we finished assembling the piece, Nina explained to us what the installation would do and what its purpose was.  My favorite part of the installation was the area where a person could walk between two sensors, and then the sensors would be able to detect whether or not there were any nanoparticles on their clothing or body.  I then began to wonder where all this technology would lead.  For example, nanotechnology and nanoparticles have been used to store data on organisms as small as bacteria.  In this aspect, nanotechnology would be an invaluable resource in respect to data storage and information backup.  Data built into a bacteria’s DNA structure could last for substantial amounts of time.  On the other hand, nanotechnology could be used to spy on almost everyone, destroying the privacy of countless people.  Nina also briefly discussed how some clothes are manufactured with tiny particles embedded in them.  Unfortunately, some of these particles could be dangerous not only for the people who produce them but also for the people who wear the clothes.  It amazes me how something so small could be so powerful.
Nina’s “Scalable Relations” installation reminded me of the lecture I attended not too long ago at Broad Art Center regarding activism and its role in art.  Like many of the activists/artists before her, Nina used an unconventional medium to voice her opinion on an issue in current society.  In her case, Nina used the technology of sound and particle sensors to address the newfound field of nanotechnology.  I agree with Nina in the sense that we humans, as a race, should be careful with the knowledge we attain.  Knowledge is a double-edged sword, if used right it could greatly benefit humanity, but if abused, could damage humanity.  For example, nanotechnology and nanoparticles have the potential to aid humans in many aspects, but if they are misused, then we could regret ever utilizing nanotechnology in the first place.  Although nanotechnology has the potential to do much harm, I still believe that the good it can do greatly outweighs any dangers that accompany it.  Nina Waisman also understands the potential of nanotechnology, and through her installation, she is attempting to sway that potential in the right direction.  Hopefully, her installation will provide the information about nanoparticles and nanotechnology that the public needs to know, and with this knowledge, misuse of nanotechnology can be avoided.
Unfortunately I did not have the chance to see the installation when it was fully operational, but from Nina told us and from what I saw building it, I’m sure the project was both aesthetically pleasing and informative.  Also from what I’ve heard from my fellow classmates who attended the show, the exhibit was a hit.  There is still so much we can learn in the field of nanotechnology, and with the help of artists like Nina Waisman, we come not only one step closer, but one step closer in the right direction.

-Khoa Truong-N

Linda Weintraub: Drop Dead Gorgeous Extra Credit by Khoa Truong-N

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

When I first entered room 1250 of Broad Art Center, I wasn’t really familiar with any of Linda Weintraub’s works.  In fact, I wasn’t even entirely sure about what type of work she was involved with.  Besides from what I read from the title of the lecture, I didn’t even really know how the two concepts of beauty and activism were related to each other.  I admit was unsure of whether or not I would be interested.  Then, Weintraub began speaking of the concept of beauty and how the definition has been twisted and tugged every which way over the years.  She asked the audience to imagine what we would consider beautiful, and why we thought it was beautiful.  I had never thought about it before, but Weintraub stated that there are two ways that we would consider something beautiful.  “Beautiful” could something tangible such as a rose or a pristine sunset, or it could be something abstract, such as the concept of love.  Next, Linda talked about an art piece where an artist interviewed blind people and asked them what their idea of beauty was.  It was interesting to see how people, who had never physically seen anything, defined beauty.  How could people with no physical means of visualization describe beauty?  In a society where beauty is profoundly based on physical appearances, this group of people could in fact describe the idea of beauty.  They did not describe beauty as something that could be seen with the naked eye, but in a deeper sense, they described beauty as harmony.  It had never occurred to me that harmony was considered beautiful, but that answer was as valid as any other.  Some could even argue that harmony was the ultimate beauty.  Hearing how the blind perceive beauty opened my mind to entirely new perspective.  I suddenly realized how I have been conditioned by society to believe that only some things are considered beautiful while others are not.  In my mind, beauty was no longer a one-dimensional concept.  The word “beautiful” can be applied to countless things.
Before Weintraub, I didn’t really have much experience or knowledge of any modern day artists/activists.  I had learned about Andy Goldsworthy before in high school, but it was interesting to discover a deeper meaning in his works.  We had even brushed upon Damien Hurst and his pieces involving decapitated cows, but to analyze and understand beyond the visual (and sometimes foul) processes was truly a fascinating experience.  One of the works that I thought was particularly interesting was the piece, “Gelatin”, which was a gigantic pink stuffed bunny filled with hay and knitted with wool.  Since it was crafted using perishable materials, the gargantuan rabbit is meant to symbolize death and decay.  In my opinion, this work is an example that no matter who you are, no matter how big, no matter how powerful, you can never escape death.  I also like the fact that this piece has become a part of the ecosystem.  It was meant to act as both a refuge and food source for animals in the environment.  The bunny was created by natural means, and like any other natural being, it will eventually return to its original state.  I enjoy how the artists created a piece of art that is literally a part of its environment.  In my opinion, this an example of unconventional beauty because it is not the typical artwork, but at the same time, it serves a beautiful purpose as a refuge and resource for all living beings in need.  Another artist/activist who I thought was particularly interesting was Jae Rhim Lee, who uses her own urine to nourish plants.  Like the piece “Gelatin”, Lee has integrated her own body into the ecosystem.  Although I’m not sure I could ever alter my diet to the point where my urine could nurture plants, I support Lee and her dedication.  To me, her work is a remark about how humanity’s diet has changed over the years.  Humans now eat such strange foods that their waste is no longer beneficial to the environment.  Unlike horses’ manure, our feces can’t fertilize fields for food!  Her work has caused me to step back and take a different view of humans and their role here on Earth.  Are we here to help or hurt?  Unfortunately, at this point in humanity it seems like we are doing more of the latter.  However, I am staying optimistic, since there are countless “green” organizations and ways that even individuals can help reverse what has happened to the planet.  Recycling, walking instead of driving, and using eco-friendly technology is among the few alternatives.  This to me is beauty.  Not necessarily the urine, but the fact that one person is trying (and in a way succeeding) to directly contributing to the planet.  I see now that beauty can manifest itself in many more ways than one.  Beauty manifests itself in unique and unexpected ways, from rotting bovines to plant-sprouting urine.  Through the medium of conventionally “ugly” items, artists convey “beautiful” ideas and concepts.
Beauty has many forms and definitions, but sometimes we limit ourselves by confining beauty into only one set of guidelines.  Many of these artists mentioned and many more unmentioned have attempted to speak out against this misuse of beauty.  They have shown viewers that beauty is more than a pretty face and a thin body. When I think of beauty now, I try to analyze the subject without using the conventional methods.  Beauty is harmony, beauty is death, beauty is birth, beauty is what we nurture, value, and protect.

-Khoa Truong-N

Extra_Credit Invisible Earthlings by Richard Jin

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Invisible Earthlings

Beatriz Da Costa’s “Invisible Earthlings” exhibit was an interesting perspective on the relation between humans and microbes. On one of the walls, Costa describes the thinking and purpose behind her exhibit – to draw awareness to the innumerable “invisible earthlings” that play a role in our everyday lives. She claims that as human beings, we have a strong propensity towards the macroscopic players in society other than ourselves – animals, plants – while we constantly neglect the microscopic actors in the narrative of our lives.


Costa’s exhibit was divided into a handful of fundamental units consisting of an interactive display, and anywhere between 3-5 petree dishes of cultured cells/bacteria from different areas of her house.


While I understand that this may be “art” to some in the sense that it provides a unique view of the world we live in, I felt as if it were more of a science project than an art project. Taking the bacteria and the interactive displays out of the context of a gallery setting, most people would probably think the items belong in a laboratory rather than an art exhibit.


However, that is not to say the exhibit was not fascinating. Perhaps as a science major working in a lab where see things on a microscopic level daily, it is not as interesting seeing all the different types of bacteria I could find in my trash or on the bench, but from the perspective of someone who is not constantly exposed to things of a microscopic level, I could see how this exhibit could be very enlightening.


For me, the interesting part of the exhibit was the indirect message. While the exhibit was an attempt to draw awareness to the role of microbes that are overlooked in society, on a higher level, to me, it was a call to action to take a moment to become aware of our surroundings – every aspect of it. In a sense, in the business of our lives we aren’t very “conscious” of our surroundings. We are so focused on getting from point A to point B that we only take notice of the things on the path right in front of us. By taking off our blinders, we see that many of the things previously outside our field of vision contributed our life, for example the person who keeps the bathrooms on our hall clean every day. This may seem miniscule, but without him, I would be utterly miserable.

While Costa exemplified this principle through microbes, I believe her true aim was to free society of its blinders.


by Richard Jin

Extra_Credit Drop Dead Gorgeous by Richard Jin

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Drop Dead Gorgeous: Beauty and the Aesthetics of Activism

Linda Weintraub’s lecture was an extremely engaging discussion which challenged the traditional view of beauty – and I’m not just saying that, it really was. Many connect beauty with the natural world. In effect, Beauty defines the relationship between the people and the world. But then what distinguishes beauty from ugliness? Why are icicles and flower petals considered beautiful while feces and maggots are not?

 In Weintrab’s opening remarks, she talked about how any culture’s view of beauty always conforms to the society’s own values on what it considers desirable – not an unreasonable statement to make. Because of this, that beauty is so intimately related to the visual sense. However, Weintrab counters this view of beauty and with a request to expand the common conception of beauty. She then goes to list the 5 pillars behind this shift in paradigm.

1.       What we perceive as beauty is a reflection of culture’s core values

2.       Beauty has a relationship with nature

3.       Parts of nature that society thinks is beautiful has value and worth

4.       We give value to and protect beautiful things

5.       We abuse and neglect things that are not beautiful

Weintrab then compares and contrasts artists who conform to the traditional view of beauty (e.g. Andy Goldsworthy) and those who contradict it by producing art that triggers shock and disgust (Daimy Hurst). In analyzing Andy Goldsworthy’s work, Weintrab asserts that society’s view of beauty is a moment of human control (i.e. things that do not naturally occur without human intervention), especially clarity over complexities, geometries over irregularities, observing over participating, and things placed out of context. While these may be appealing to the eye, they are not ecological.


Andy Goldsworthys Man Influenced Icicle


On the other hand, Damien Hurst creates artwork dealing with death and decay, things that are ecological as they occur in nature. However, we consider these things ugly.


What is beautiful from an ecological sense? Beauty should also be defined as anything that serves a purpose but preserves the health of the ecosystem. And in this case, death and decomposition is part of the larger picture of the health of the ecosystem. Death allows for life.

Although I believe Weintrab’s version of beauty is definitely intriguing and brings a new dimension to the meaning of beauty, I think it is still just a “version” of beauty. While it is true that the majority of our definition of beauty is governed by our culture, each person I believe has a unique perception of beauty. If you take music for instance, even if we are raised in a region that loves country, we may still think it is ugly and consider heavy metal beautiful. If Weintrab’s purpose is to attempt to expand the definition of beauty to incorporate her own, then theoretically, everything should be considered beautiful because different people find different things beautiful.

As it relates to activism, although Weintrab did not explicitly mention activism, I think the indirect overarching message transcended her message on beauty but rather, and addressed the need to shatter the conformity to society’s values. Activism seeks to break conventional perspectives and incorporate new ways of thinking into mainstream society.

by Richard Jin