petite mort In this issueSomething from Nothing No.3 2005
<< 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
contents mailing list about us contribute contact archive






<< previous page | pg 2


The last two years have seen at least two major museum exhibitions dedicated to the confluence between nanotechnology and art. First in 2003 "Nano," was on display at the Los Angeles County Museum, a major museum funhouse of art and science, and secondly "Nanotechnology – The Exhibition" , a view of nanotechnology inspired art, was on view last spring ‘03 at the Miami University Art Museum in Ohio. Both of these recent exhibitions point to the growing awareness of nanotechnology and impact that technological research is having on artistic output.

The Nano exhibition in Los Angeles was mounted by Victoria Vesna, chair of the UCLA Department of Design/Media Arts, and James Gimzewski, a nano-scientist in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. Installed in the museum’s children’s gallery, though trafficked by all ages, the exhibition purposely avoided presenting science fiction-like visions of nanotechnology doled out by the popular media, instead focusing on presenting nanotechnology to the public in a way that took advantage of new media technologies that framed the exhibition in a variety of interactive metaphorical tableaux.

Vesna and Gimzewski feel that nanotechnology-inspired art has begun to branch in two directions – one "is very much about connections and interconnections," says Gimzewski. "Artists respond to new scientific discoveries and vice versa. That’s what we’re seeing at the moment and I find it very beautiful." The other is what he calls "the dark side" – fictional imaginings like Crichton’s Prey which exploit doomsday scenarios fed by shoddy science. Luckily, exhibitions like Nano are starting to lead the way in the counterrevolution to popular dystopian views by presenting brilliantly conceived multimedia installations that manage to make complex ideas like quantum tunneling comprehensible (Wiki: quantum tunneling).

The 2003 exhibit Nano-technology, the Exhibition at the Miami University Museum of Art focused specifically on artists who are involved with the ideas or applications of nanotechnology in their work. The exhibition provides a very telling cross section of the variety of ways in which artists are approaching the subject. Some like Tim Newfields, whose work references the interplay between energy and nanostructures, attack the realm of nano via computer. Others, like painter Clark Richert, deconstruct the basic structures of the universe using symmetry and pattern to illustrate the dimensional dilemma of the nanoscale. Like nanotechnology, Richert’s paintings change as one gets in closer as features take on shifting geometrical orders. Chris Ewels displays his work on plasma screens in preordered viewing sequences. He generates images using a ray tracing computer program, deriving structures from research that can deliver detailed calculations about the physical and chemical properties of various nanostructures.

Nano-technology, the Exhibition.  Miami University Art Museum
© 2002 Chris Ewels
© Tim Newfields   TOP ROW, L to R:
Chris Ewels, "Double Walled Nanotube" 2002, computer generated; Tim Newfields, "Programmed" 200?


Clark Richert, "Triacon Shadowing" 2001, acrylic on canvas, 70 x 70”; Clark Richert, "LA-AC Periods" 2001, acrylic on canvas, 70 x 70”; Chris Ewels, "Nanotube" 2002, computer generated.

Clark Richert, "Magic Tet" 2001, acrylic on canvas, 70 x 70”.
© 2001 Clark Richert © 2001 Clark Richert© 2002 Chris Ewels
© 2001 Clark Richert

In reality, many current nano-artists are actually scientists who are beginning to photo document this strange alien realm much like a space probe investigating the moons of Saturn. They snap images using electron microscopes that show kaleidoscopic views resembling stained glass, fireworks, fractals and other phenomena familiar in our macro world. One artist who bases her work on this kind of visualization is Alexa Smith who produces abstracted, lava-lamp-like images that evoke the new physics of life on the nano scale. As amorphous as primordial soup, her nano-scapes are meant to evoke the melding physics of life broken down to the atomic scale.

Often today’s nanoartist is also by definition a kind of programmer. This approach to nanoart is typified by nano artist/scientist Charles Ostman, who declares "I don’t draw art…I grow it." Ostman categorizes himself as a "procedural artist," referring to the fact that he literally creates synthetic environments that are formed with aesthetics in mind while also churning out fantastical renderings of "technological imaginings" that he calls "organomorphs". Perhaps some of the most critically interesting work being done recently on the subject of nanotechnology comes from the Montreal-based audio/visual wonder pair Skoltz_Kogen (Dominique T. Skoltz and Herman W. Kolgen) who were recently commissioned to create a piece called "Nanowet" for Horizon Zero’s online gallery. This project was derived from their performance/installation called "Epiderm" that debuted last summer at Montreal’s Usine C gallery. The work (which one reviewer called "an inner space mindfuck that is just screaming for illicit hallucinogens…") was a panoramic audio and 3D digital animation presented on an 18-foot wide circular screen and 5.1 surround sound that presented viewers with a virtual model of nanostructures in motion. The artists called it "an artistic transposition of a complex structure at the atomic level that moves in space in an absolute wet environment." One of the first veritable multimedia "nanoscapes", Epiderm was groundbreaking in its ability to immerse viewers in a worldspace so dominated by convoluted physics as to be almost completely disorienting. A kind of artistic salvo aimed at dismantling how we now imagine the world to be, the work forces viewers to confront the discomfort of change while reveling in the peculiar beauty of the molecular world.

© Alexa Smith © Alexa Smith © Charles Ostman

LEFT TO RIGHT: Alexa Smith, "Creation 1" & "Creation 2"; Charles Ostman, "Organomorph", archival acrylic paint digitally applied to canvas.








“Our way of perceiving the world shifts with technological advances. [...] new systems of analysis, emotions, reactions, and communications are developed in our brains with exposure to new technologies. ”









“Every corner of current artistic media could be affected [...] Imagine [sculpture] that can change form, dissipate, float away, and disappear”


Besides theses two recent exhibitions an intriguing convergence of art and nanotechnology took place last year in Canada at the Banff New Media Institute. This powerhouse multidisciplinary think-tank called "Carbon vs. Silicon" turned out to be "a conceptual roller coaster ride, sparkling with cutting edge curiosity" according to Sara Diamond (Editor-in-Chief of the digital art and culture online magazine "Horizon Zero"). The project was spearheaded by Vesna and Gimzewski, of the "Nano" exhibition in LA, and involved a series of seminars involving big brains from every corner of art, culture and science. One side project that took place as part of the symposium was called "Nano Home of the Future" which invited six teams of digital artists, designers and scientists to develop an interactive architectural sketch of a nanotech dream home concept. While the results have been termed speculative fiction, the range of the projects and scope of the imagined applications definitely underscore the multidisciplinary aspect of nanotechnology when it meets art. The proposed projects range from a plan for a telepathically controlled house to living cities composed of fluid structures with translucent skins to an audiovisual tour through the home of today rendered completely alien when seen through nanoscale electron microscopic imagery.

Besides conceptual pondering of a nano-technological future, concrete artwork that deals with the nano-realm is a powerful visual counterpoint to more abstract ramblings. It’s difficult from today’s vantage point to really fully grasp the idea that nanotechnology will very likely someday be so ubiquitous and diverse that, like TV or telephones, it will be difficult to imagine life before it. Engineers claim that there’s nothing that can be realized in the macro world that can’t be done on a nano scale – and of course this includes art. What seems to hold particularly flexible material promise for art, as well as commercial arenas, is the odd shifts in physicality at a nano scale. Not all materials behave the same in the world of molecules – fluids are suddenly grainy, surface tension is suddenly a dominant force and various quantum effects that are negligible in the macro world suddenly become critical.


One major factor facing artists who currently want to explore the actual manipulation of the world on a molecular level is cost. Currently, access to nano-technological facilities is hardly common. Most artists don’t have scanning electron microscopes on hand and few, if any, have been instructed in "photonic tweezing" nor taken Nano-sculpture 101. It has been said that art is grown from science with technique added. Our way of perceiving the world shifts with technological advances. Just as photography imposed itself dramatically on painting in the 19th century, spawning Impressionism and later the cuts and superimpositions of Cubism, new systems of analysis, emotions, reactions and communicative forms are developed in our brains with exposure to new technologies and the art forms that result. Nanoart opens up a vast frontier of questioning the structure of the world as we have thus far imagined it, especially in the realm of the shape of space and the essence of emptiness. Will nanoart become the micro-Minimalism of the future? Only time will tell.

So what if anything does the future of the medium of nanoart promise? While many facets of nanotechnology continue to linger in the fog of science fiction, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to contemplate the options. An unprecedented level of interactivity is one possibility. If mechanical elements on a nano scale become possible or even ubiquitous, it would be simple to create structures that can be programmed to change shape, color, texture or scale. A sculpture that changes expression, a painting that, much like a plasma screen, cycles through half a dozen or more pre-programmed images. And that’s just on the level of traditional media. Every corner of current artistic media could be affected – just imagine an installation artist with nano-technological capabilities not to mention the implications of body art, earth art: mountains that change form, dissipate, float away and disappear; architecture that just requires plugging in a CAD program to manipulate a nano putty that can simulate different material qualities and properties, or the creation of custom engineered mechanobiological "life forms" which are optimized for artistic purposes. From today’s vantage point, this fantastical postulating still looks like so much pie in the sky but the building blocks are there. Sooner or later, once Moore’s law fast-forwards the applications and the technology becomes ubiquitous, there will only be the final frontier left to overcome – imagination. X


<< previous page | pg 2



TECHNOLOGY; Nanotech Memory Chips Might Soon Be a Reality by Barnaby J. Feder,
The New York Times, June 7, 2004



Chris Ewels, physicists and artist.

Tim Newfields, artist.

Charles Ostman, scientist and artist.

Clark Richert, painter.

Alexa Smith, artist.



Carbon versus Silicon: Thinking Small/Thinking Fast (2003), an exhibition.

Nano (2003), an exhibition

Nanotechnology – The Exhibition (2003)

Banff New Media Institute

Horizon Zero, a multimedia Web magazine about digital art and culture in Canada.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Miami University Art Museum, OH

UCLA Department of Design/Media Arts

UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry



Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917- ), British author and inventor.

Michael Crichton, author of Prey

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), architect and inventor.

Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988), physicists.

J. Storrs Hall, scientist, originator of the Utility Fog concept.

Michel Houellebecq, French novelist. Author of The Elementary Particles



Bucky Balls (1985)

Nanoguitar (1997)

Utility Fog

Cornell University

Osaka University

Molecular beam epitaxy (MBE)

Quantum tunneling



Fantastic Voyage (1966), directed by Richard Fleischer

The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

Prey by Michael Crichton

<< previous page | pg 2