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Under the Scope: Looking at the body through art and science

Photo of two women, Ruta and Rita, smiling

Do you consider yourself a scientist? An artist? Both? Thursday’s discussion in the Data Studio about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) highlighted the ways that the world creates unnecessary divisions in thinking, problem solving and creating, that in turn affect our identities, and the struggle within ourselves (and academia) to resolve them.

The October 3 conversation featured Rita Blaik, a multidisciplinary scientist, artist, and dancer based in Los Angeles. She sat down with Ruta Saliklis, Director of Exhibitions and Development at the San Luis Obispo Art Museum on Thursday, to talk about her work, and her upcoming exhibit BODYidentity at the San Luis Obispo Art Museum (opens today during Art After Dark).

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math)

Ruta Saliklis began the conversation by quickly orienting us to STEAM – how it’s not new (think Leonardo da Vinci) and how we have a local example in Dr. Tom Miller, who practices radiology in San Luis Obispo. When he’s not treating patients, he may use his mammography machine for artistic endeavors, like getting a closer look at a snake. Ruta also described a Slovenian project that features performance art in zero gravity conditions for the next fifty years.

Definitely some awesome, creative, experimental stuff.

Seeing the world through a nano lens

Ruta then turned to Rita, who explained her doctoral work in conductive nanoarchitecture and her interest in leveraging biofuel cells so that, for example, a pacemaker can run on blood sugar. It’s not hard to see how this interest informed one of her first projects, which came about through a mistake – a photo she took of her friend’s band at night that didn’t turn out quite right, but which showed the energy of the performance in a cool way. This photo “revealed something extra that was beyond the surface” Rita said, and it connected to the nano scale in an abstract way.

Image of a woman's transparent torso by Rita Blaik for BODYidentity

BODYidentity by Rita Blaik

Rita first discovered the collaborations possible between art and science at UCLA’s Art | Sci Center + Lab, which promotes “artists in labs and scientists in studios.” She has found that her professors have been supportive and sometime surprised that her work is abstract, not, as some assume, “pretty microscope images” which are also cool, but different. Rita wants her work to make people curious, even if the science isn’t obvious in her work.

What about the divisions between science and art, how do you find where you fit? They’re not so separate, she reminded the interactive audience who asked lots of questions. In both, “You plan something and what happens is different than what you expect.”

Were you there? What were your conversation highlights? Tell us in the comments.

Photos from the conversation are on Flickr. For more about the event, see our calendar or read Mustang News.