Particle physics art

UCLA Art|Sci Center’s interactive event aims to bridge the gap between art and science

As artistic and scientific practices merge, human explorations from the outside space and the deep sea.

Dedicated to the synthesis of art and science, the UCLA Art|Sci Center will host “[Alien] Stardust meets plankton”, an interactive program event at UCLA on September 23. Attendees can expect to visit two separate exhibits at opposite ends of campus, “Noise Aquarium” and “[Alien] Stardust: signal to noise. The exhibits demonstrate how the intersection of art and science strengthens both disciplines, said Santiago Torres, postdoctoral fellow in UCLA’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Art|Sci Center.

“People these days might think art and science are really disconnected,” Torres said. “For me, art and science are naturally linked because artists and scientists seek to understand the universe through their own eyes and through their own work.”

Anuradha Vikram, writer and curator of the Art|Sci Center, said in a written statement that artists and scientists are often interdisciplinary thinkers and have similar practices, such as iteration and experimentation. In “[Alien] Star Dust” and “Noise Aquarium,” science and art merge to spread knowledge in an engaging way, Torres said.

[Related: Graduate student aims to inspire activism by uniting art, science in exhibit]

“[Alien] Star Dust: Signal to Noise” – a project originally presented at the Natural History Museum in Vienna on March 10, 2020 – allows participants to see physical and digital displays of meteorites and dust in an immersive audiovisual environment. Using a plethora of 3D animation and augmented reality techniques, microscopic imagery, and sound design, the exhibition showcases knowledge through an experience of cosmic phenomena. Notably, the exhibit not only seeks to delve into the dust of outer space, but also the idea that the elements of life originate from that dust and are therefore connected, Torres said.

“We’re like stardust in a way because our whole body, … all the materials are recycled, recycled from the evolution of the star,” Torres said. “When you dig deeper philosophically and make sense of things, you realize that the fundamental thing is to understand our place on Earth and in the universe, but then to express it in different ways.”

Unlike the macroscopic galactic exploration of the universe in “[Alien] Star Dust: Signal to Noise, “Noise Aquarium” explores the microscopic world of the ocean bringing patterns of plankton to life, Torres said. The show presents an aquarium-like environment with which participants interact through the destructive disturbances they generate from their movements and noise.

Noise Aquarium creates a simulated environment where participants affect sounds in the room and the kinetic behavior of digital plankton projections, said UCLA Art|Sci Center Deputy Director and sound artist Ivana Dama. The exhibit aims to make its audience realize how harmful noise pollution can be to the invisible but fundamental organisms in the Earth’s ecosystem that produce the vast majority of the world’s oxygen, Dama said.

“Immersive soundscapes using underwater noise frequencies were composed for this project,” Dama said. “By using these (oil drilling and sonar) sounds…we wanted to highlight an uncomfortable moment for the public…and make people feel uncomfortable that these sounds happen in the ocean all the time.”

[Related: New ways of seeing the sea: Installations invoke emotions of environmental change]

While space and the ocean may seem like opposite places, Dama said the two [Alien] Star Dust and Noise Aquarium emphasize the concept of connection. On a normal day, it can be hard to think about how a speck of dust in a distant comet is fundamentally connected to Earth, the same way microscopic plankton is fundamental to Earth’s climate and life, said Torres.

Additionally, the event, while featuring two shows on different sides of campus, is a singular experience. The guided walk and soundscape serve as a link between space and the ocean and the North and South campuses, Dama said. One of the main impacts of the artistic and scientific communities collaborating and interacting is that the general public will be more in touch with the knowledge present in both fields, said Torres.

“It will really help to think outside the box,” Torres said. “Knowledge will evolve and grow faster as we bring these communities together.”