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Science. Communication. Community.

Mixed Media: Reintegrating the Arts and Sciences

What does dance have to do with the Higgs boson? And how does glass relate to our internal organs? Seven collaborative projects unveiled this week at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas make the case that science doesn’t have to stay in the lab—and art doesn’t have to stay in the studio.                                                                                                                        
by Jessica McDonald

“Madonna et cor” by Michael Skrtic (2013) Part of the exhibit “Looking In: Organs and the Way We View Them,” one of seven art-science projects at the International Arts & Ideas Festival this year in New Haven. Photo credit: Jessica McDonald

Upon viewing her first surgeries, Yale medical student Lucinda Liu was struck by the vibrancy of so many of the body’s organs: the gallbladder’s unusual, and infectious greenness; the range in yellow hue of different types of fat; the shockingly bright cherry red of the oxygenated blood in the heart. Since a protective layer of skin blankets these tissues and organs, barring an injury or other malady that lets light in, most people never get to see the wide color palates of their own bodies.

Fascinated by this idea, Liu wanted to change that, so she teamed up with several Yale physicians and glass artists. The resulting work is now on view at the Yale University School of Art until June 28th. In one piece, 200 glassblown ‘gallbladders’ hang in suspension. A massive blob of yellow abdominal fat overflows from a kitchen table in “Draped Omentum.” A series of more abstract, nest-like ‘wombs’ cradle spheres of clear glass, and a carefully constructed stained glass work depicting the heart invokes the Madonna and Child. Each goes beyond vividness, and challenges the viewer to think more deeply about how each bodily component is typically regarded—whether largely dispensable (gallbladder), disgusting (fat), or beautiful (the heart and womb).

“Gallbladders #200” by Lucinda Liu and Daryl C. Smith (2013) Photo credit: Jessica McDonald

Another project, “Discovering the Higgs,” tackles particle physics with dance. Sarah Demers, an Assistant Professor of Physics at Yale who does research at the large hadron collider at CERN, collaborated with Emily Coates, a choreographer and dancer, and director of dance studies at Yale. Demers and Coates wanted to explain the Higgs boson discovery in a novel visual way, and realized after interviewing lots of scientists at CERN that gestures were an integral part of communication.

"Draped Omentum" by Lucinda Liu and Michael Skrtic (2013)

“Draped Omentum” by Lucinda Liu and Michael Skrtic (2013) Photo credit: Jessica McDonald

“No one can talk about the Higgs boson with their hands in their pockets,” said Coates during the public discussion of her work. Upon reviewing video of the interviews, these movements were used in the story-telling choreography. The idea of using dance to explain quantum mechanics is perhaps counter-intuitive.

“You’re asking for a macroscopic framework for something that doesn’t have one,” Demers said. But instead of being problematic, Demers views this gap as precisely what helps people understand the physics better. “It really sharpens the exact physics we can’t embody.”

Other projects include a crowd-sourced mapping tool to explore a “sense of place” in literature; the use of sculpture to make income disparities tangible; the application of math and design to beer production; the cross-fertilization of neuroscience and theater to investigate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); and the “pluripotency dance,” a performance piece incorporating the science and ethics of stem cell research.

For more on each of the collaborations, see the Reintegrate website.

A close-up of a single glass gallbladder. Each is approximately life-size, with red streaks representative of blood vessels.

A close-up of a single glass gallbladder. Each is approximately life-size, with red streaks representative of blood vessels. Photo credit: Jessica McDonald

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This entry was posted on June 20, 2013 by in Art, Health, Physics and tagged , , , , .
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