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Art, science converge for Fulbright winners

By Stephen Stewart

Nov. 15, 2010 1:33 a.m.

Johanna Reed wants to know how eating pasta makes people feel.

To Reed, eating food has always been an emotional experience, and her latest project, making a food opera, was one of several artistic endeavours addressed at a panel on Friday.

Hosted by the UCLA Art | Sci Center & Lab, the panel sought to foster the compatibility of art and science by showing how the two are being combined in the world. The panel was presented to the recipients of the International Fulbright Science and Technology Award, a scholarship given to international students that supports study at top U.S. universities for science, engineering and technology.

Panelists included several scientists and artists, each of whom shared their perspectives and contributions to the mixing of science and art.

“The world we live in is not a separate disciplinary world,” said Victoria Vesna, the art director of the center. “We all create and are inspired by the same source.”

Mattia Casalegno, one of the panelists, is a graduate student in the UCLA Department of Design | Media Arts. He discussed his project “Unstable Empathy,” which measured people’s empathetic state of mind by using electroencephalogram headsets to record brain waves. In the experiment, two people sat in complete darkness while their brain waves were measured. When their brain waves reached a similar state, a snapshot of their faces was taken and appeared on the wall behind them, recording their emotions.

Casalegno’s project appeared in the Media Facades Festival in Brussels this year, according to his website.

Reed, an artist in Los Angeles and a member of the UCLA Art | Sci Center & Lab, was also a panelist in the event. She presented her idea of a food opera.

“The idea is to take the structure of an opera and translate it into a food experience. The food would be the characters and the dramatic action,” Reed said. “For example, could a bowl of pasta feel sad? Could a peanut butter and jelly sandwich be boring?”

While Reed is still working out the logistics of her food opera right now, she also presented several of her other current projects.

Another one, called “Big Head,” literally involves wearing a large head made out of vacuum-formed plastic. The head is supposed to answer the question, “Would you think bigger thoughts if you had a bigger head?”

The panel also featured several other scientists and artists, who spoke on topics including bio-hacking to preventing consumerism through shock therapy.

In addition to a visit to the UCLA Art | Sci Center & Lab, the Fulbright recipients participated in lectures, panel discussions and site workshops. Students also visited the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and met Nobel laureate Dr. David Baltimore.

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