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Mar 26, 2014



A few months ago, I headed to New York's Hudson River Valley with my family to visit Storm King and Dia: Beacon

The first time I visited Storm King was to grab a couple of shots for my Serra documentary for Gibbs Farm.

"Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra's Tuhirangi Contour" DIR. Alberta Chu. 2003. An ASKlabs Production for the Keystone Trust.

Serra’s work at Storm King, Schunnemunk Fork, is comprised of four walls that express the fall of the land. This time the work was different than other times I had seen it; the grass had grown very tall around the pieces. I thought that Richard would probably prefer the tall grasses to be cut.

Richard Serra. Schunnemunk Fork. 1990-91. Storm King Art Center

We spent a perfect Fall afternoon at Storm King exploring large-scale sculptures by Di Suvero, Calder, Lewitt, Nevelson, and Snelson, to name a few. I was pleased to experience a couple of the more recently installed works: Maya Lin’s earthwork was quite substantial and the kids had a blast with its topology; Goldsworthy’s wall meandered and crossed a brook.

TOP: Maya Lin. Storm King Wavefield. 2007-08. BOTTOM: Andy Goldsworthy. Storm King Wall, 1997-98.

The next day we visited Dia: Beacon. Dia was formerly located in Manhattan’s Chelsea district but moved out of the city to a spacious Nabisco plant several years ago. I will never forget first seeing Serra’s Torqued Ellipses at Dia's raw warehouse space in the late 1990s.  Dia: Beacon is a stunning art museum, the ceilings are shaped like the teeth of a saw and let in all this amazing natural light. It’s just huge: Heizer, Serra, Flavin, Lewitt, Warhol, De Maria, Beuys, Irwin, Neuhaus, the list goes on. 

Works by (L) Michael Heizer and (R) Dan Flavin at Dia: Beacon. (By advance appointment you can get inside the barrier around the Heizers to get a closer look.)

On these art pilgrimages, I love experiencing art with kids, and am also encouraged by the promise that their minds are developing new connections.

We've talked about STEM (science + technology + engineering + mathematics) to STEAM (science + technology + engineering + arts + mathematics) before, and more voices are joining in on this movement. On Arts Advocacy Day in April 2013, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma spoke about the importance of arts education for the future of our nation. Ma discussed the national STEM to STEAM education movement stating: “STEM without STEAM loses steam, but STEM with STEAM will power our country forward. The qualities crucial to success in the 21st Century workforce will not come just from studying science, technology and engineering and math, as important as those disciplines are.”

Kenneth Snelson. Free Ride Home. 1974. Storm King Art Center.

And there’s proof that art makes kids smart - good news for educators fighting to keep arts funding. In 2008, university researchers completed three years of studies on the relationships between the arts and cognition. The Dana Consortium Report Learning, Arts, and the Brain showed strong links between cognitive abilities and arts education (press release here). These projects were preliminary, and did not lead to the identification of definitive causal relationships.

A more recent study, according to an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Brian Kisida, Jay P. Greene and Daniel H. Bowen, took advantage of the "perfect opportunity" to investigate links between art and its educational benefits. A few years ago, a Walton (Walmart, Sam’s Club) heiress opened the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. School field trips to the museum are free, thanks to a generous endowment, but the local schools far outnumber the available slots for visits so a lottery system was instituted. This creates a unique opportunity for social scientists to conduct research on the effects of museum visits on school age children: to study groups of kids who had never been to art museums in an educational setting (and to have control groups in the kids who had not yet been chosen by lottery). Their findings indicate significant benefits in critical thinking, arts engagement, and diversity of ideas. Though research in this area is still in its early days, it provides strong support for strengthening arts curriculum in schools.

Get inspired by art and grow your brain connections! Storm King Art Center reopens for the 2014 season this week, so dust off your picnic blankets and put some air in your bicycle tires. (While you're in the area, we've heard the Hessell Museum at Bard College is worth a visit too.)  Happy trails!

TOP OF PAGE: Sol Lewitt. Five Modular Units. 1971. Storm King Art Center.

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CommentsCategories Art Environment STEM to STEAM US Tags Storm King, Dia Beacon, Serra, Di Suvero, Maya Lin, Goldsworthy, Nevelson, Lewitt, Calder, Heizer, Judd, Snellson, Flavin, De Maria warhol

Jul 9, 2013



One thing that is so exciting about the intersection of science and art is the pervasive spirit of innovation and experimentation. Inspired in part by some of the work we saw in Synergy’s Ocean Stories exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Science (closed June 9 but coming soon to New York!) and the always amazing MIT museum, we thought we’d pull together some great experimental sciart short films available online and off. To be honest, when we’re talking about sciart shorts, the word “experimental” is pretty much implied. Whether the experiment is in the science or the art (or both!), here is a little taster of what’s out there.

Of course we have to start with Doc Edgerton’s films. We’ve mentioned them before, but they’re worth the repetition. If you haven’t yet, or you haven’t lately, check out MIT’s digital archive for some of Doc’s films, stills, and other experiments, as well as biographical information and more. Another early experimental sciart filmmaker was Jean Painleve. His work relied less on the popular techniques of sets, editing, and other manipulations of reality to create surreal films. He stated instead that nature itself is surreal, and he dedicated himself to capturing that on film. An online archive provides short snippets of a selection of his films, and a DVD collection is available either through the BFI or the Criterion Collection.

Much more recently, IBM released A Boy and His Atom, hailed the “world’s smallest movie” - and it must be. The stop-motion animation was created by literally moving atoms around one by one, capturing each shot through their scanning tunneling microscope. The results are pretty great, harking back to early video game graphics in their pixelated simplicity.

The Durance. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt

Audiovisual sciart creations have also been put to work for the science and communities they represent. A series of works called “Interlaced Waters” were made in the early 2000s to explore and teach about the Durance River’s ecosystem in France. Intended to help scientists research the ecosystem of the river, these films were compiled using the new (at the time) technology of DVD, as well as to educate the public and tourists about the region’s environment through exhibition, workshops, and lectures, ultimately working to help protect that environment from detrimental influence. Another more recent project, TheBlu, brings the oceans of the world to your desktop computer via thousands of artists and animators. According to their website, “TheBlu turns the Internet into a globally-connected 3D digital ocean, providing an immersive experience that is both fun and educational for all ages.” With connections at MIT, National Geographic, and the Animation Director of Avatar, this is one seriously exciting and massive sciart collaboration.

Screenshot of TheBlu taken June 6, 2013

Finally, 2011’s Subtle Technologies Festival, in Toronto, featured two curated sets of experimental sciart shorts. Dan Falk’s article pretty much sums it up (for those of us who couldn’t be there), but the programme is impressive and worth checking out, as is the work of the curators and contributors (like Stanza, Scott Arford, and Dmitry Gelfand & Evelina Domnitch).

With the growth of science festivals, science and art collaborations, and websites like YouTube, there are probably more avenues for experimental sciart shorts than ever before. Check them out - maybe they’ll inspire you to make your own!

PHOTO TOP OF PAGE: Inspired by Doc Edgerton. Commons

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CommentsCategories Art DocFilm Environment SciArt SciComm World Tags Sciart, Art, Science, Docfilm, Short Films, Olats, TheBlu, MIT, IBM, MIT Museum, BFI, Criterion Collection, Subtle Technologies, Synergy, Museum of Science, Science Festivals, YouTube, Archives, Collaborations, Doc Edgerton, Jean Painleve #sciart #docfilm #scicomm #science #STEMtoSTEAM #art #MIT #MITMuseum #Boston #collaboration #SubtleTechnologies #TheBlu #IBM #WorldsSmallestMovie #Oceans #Olats

Apr 23, 2013



Inspired by a recent discussion of great science documentaries on LinkedIn (initiated by Producer-Writer-Editor Bill Lattanzi also an Adjunct Professor in MIT's Science Writing program) ASKlabs creates a list of artistic science films that we either love or want to see. These films represent stories of science and art on film, both featuring and embodying feats of innovation, invention, and investigation. Among them are creative retellings using animations and associative imagery, alongside more established doc tropes like the use of archival footage and interviews. These films include artforms like animation, dance, poetry, painting, origami, and music. The films range from stories about controversial characters like Jacque Fresco and Joe Davis, to influential and renowned science-artists like Ernst Haeckel and Anna Campbell Bliss. Despite the wide array of subjects, a pattern that emerges from this group of films is their focus on the relationship between humans and the environment. 

Pushing the genre of science documentary filmmaking Death by Design (Peter Friedman, 1997) uses innovative techniques to help explore cell cycle: cellular life and death. Cell operations and functions, interactions, and contexts, and the interdependence of cells and organisms are intercut with archival footage of Busby Berkeley dancers. Moving from cellular function to the phenomena of the wider environment, Dutch Light (Pieter-Rim de Kroon, 2003) explores the myth of light in Holland. Has the peculiar Dutch light really impacted art and science over the centuries? What creates this effect?


L: The Dutch landscape

Also invested in creative and innovative form, the next few films also focus on “characters” of science and art. Hybrid (Monteith McCollum, 2000) is an example of a film about science, humans, and the environment, implementing archival 16mm footage, animation, and more classic interviews to piece together the story of filmmaker Monteith McCollum’s grandfather, Milford Beeghly. In the 1930s, Beeghly was one of the first American farmers to genetically enhance his crops, and the film follows the effects of his obsessive vision on both the agricultural world and Beeghly’s family. Proteus (David Lebrun, 2004) is David Lebrun’s fascinating voyage of discovery, exploring the work of scientist and artist Ernst Haeckel. The film uses innovative ways to portray Haeckel’s science-art vision, and its influence on biology as well as art, design, and politics of the 20th century. Future by Design (William Gazecki, 2006) is another film which focuses on a boundary-smashing figure, this time the more controversial Jacque Fresco. A “futurist,” Fresco is a prolific designer, inventor, and theorist. This film takes us inside the world of this unique character. All About Tesla: The Research (Michael Krause, 2007) looks in on the life, work, and legacy of one of our favorite scientists, Nikola Tesla. Director Michael Krause not only explores Tesla’s own work, but also finds contemporary researchers and fans to see how Tesla lives on today. Lumia (Meredith Finkelstein and Paul Vlachos, 2008) is the tale of another, less successful, inventor: Thomas Wilfred tried for decades to develop an instrument which could capture light and coax music from the rays. The film takes a look at the excitement and possibilities of the era through Wilfred’s inventions, as well as the bizarre and ambitious projects of his contemporaries, many of which failed. Heaven and Earth and Joe Davis (Peter Sasowsky, 2010) follows another controversial and often marginalized figure at the crossroads of art and science. Director Peter Sasowsky delves into the visions and struggles of Joe Davis, looking back at a strange and intriguing life as well as investigating the way science and art come together in Davis’ creations.

Less controversially, Me and Isaac Newton (Michael Apted, 1999) chooses scientists and researchers at the very top of their fields as its subject. Michael Apted side-steps their scientific accomplishments, however, and looks more closely at the personalities and lives behind the research. Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss (Cid Collins Walker, 2012) also chooses a subject at the top of her field. Exploring Utah artist Bliss’s life and work, which combines design, architecture, mathematics, and technology, the film focuses especially on her time with Bauhaus mentors Gyorgy Kepes of MIT and Josef Albers of Black Mountain College in North Carolina.


Origami art  L:

The next two films bring together science and art in innovative ways. Between the Folds (Vanessa Gould, 2008) brings to the screen the story of artists and scientists (from MIT and NASA) who are dedicated to the art of origami. Burning Ice (Peter Gilbert and Adam Singer, 2010) depicts a journey along the coast of Greenland as artists and scientists come together on a ship. The scientists gather data on climate change, and the artists (of all varieties) learn from the scientists and try to interpret the data through their artworks. The film combines interviews and performances.



The final group of films also focuses on climate change and the environment. The Hollow Tree (Daniel J. Pierce, 2011) is the story of a community coming together with innovative engineering to save a beloved dead redwood in Vancouver. One of our favorite films ever, The City Dark (Ian Cheney, 2011) starts as an investigation about the loss of visibility of stars in urban life, which takes filmmaker Ian Cheney on a much bigger journey as he tries to get to the bottom of what living in perpetual light and light pollution really means. Finally, Symphony of the Soil (Deborah Koons, 2012) takes a creative approach to understanding the science, structure, and life of soil. The film also explores humans’ relationship with and impact on the soil, and our interdependence with the health of the soil.

We hope these films will inspire you to explore the world of science and art.

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CommentsCategories Art DocFilm Environment SciArt SciComm Science Tags #sciart #docfilm #artdoc #artscience Ian Cheney science art documentary film documentaries Bill Lattanzi, Peter Friedman, Death by Design, Dutch Light, Pieter-Rim de Kroon, Hybrid, Monteith McCollum, Proteus, David Lebrun Future by Design, William Gazecki, About Tesla: The Research, Michael Krause, Lumia, Meredith Finkelstein, Paul Vlachos, Heavaen and Earth and Joe Davis, Peter Sasowsky, Me and Isaac Newton, Michael Apted, Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss, Cid Collins Walker, Origami, between the folds, Vanessa Gould, Burning Ice, Peter Gilbert, Adam Singer, The Hollow Tree, Daniel J. Pierce, The City Dark, Symphony of the Soil, Deborah Koons artful artistic artsy science documentaries

Apr 9, 2013



The Cambridge Science Festival 2013 is here at last! This is the sixth year of this innovative festival, which was the first of its kind in the US. Events take place all over Cambridge, with several events further afield, highlighting all the great venues and great science to be found in the Boston area. Follow the Festival on Twitter (@CSFtweets) for up-to-date info. Please consider making a donation to the Cambridge Science Festival here:

Of the 152 exhibits, events, and recurring programs ranging from the "Party for the Planet at Franklin Park Zoo" in celebration of Earth day, to the MIT Flea Market, the following events really jumped out at us: some #sciart, with a little innovation, storytelling, #scicomm, and education thrown in.

Friday, April 12

What: SoundScience Fun! @ The Museum of Science, ScienceLive Stage
When: April 12, 5:30pm - 6:15pm
Why: Learn about the science of sound through singing and demonstrations. Free!

What: The Edge of the Map @ Harvard University Science Center, Rm 302, 1 Oxford St., Cambridge
When: April 12, 8:00pm - 9:00pm (and again April 13, 2:00pm - 3:00pm & 5:00pm - 6:00pm & 8:00pm - 9:00pm, and April 14, 5:00pm - 6:00pm)
Why: A collaboration between Harvard biology students and theater-maker Calla Videt, this piece explores social issues and biology through genetics.

What: Operation Epsilon @ Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
When: April 12-8:00pm - 10:00pm (and again April 13, 3:00pm - 5:00pm & 8:00pm - 10:00pm; April 14, 2:00pm - 4:00pm; April 17, 7:30pm - 9:30pm; April 18, 7:30pm - 9:30pm; April 19, 8:00pm - 10:00pm; April 20, 3:00pm - 5:00pm & 8:00pm - 10:00pm; April 21, 2:00pm - 4:00pm)
Why: This play is based on real transcripts which were secretly recorded during Hitler’s “Uranium Club’s” captivity in England. How close were the Nazis to an atomic bomb? What was really happening among these top scientists under Hitler?

Sunday, April 14

What: Artisan's Asylum Open House & DIY Festival @ Artisan's Asylum, 10 Tyler Street, Somerville
When: April 14, 1:00pm - 5:00pm
Why: Check out the Artisan’s Asylum - what they do, and what you could do too!

What: MIT Museum Art & Science Studio Showcase @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave, Cambridge
When: April 14, 1:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: See awesome current projects from MIT students, staff, and researchers.

What: Visual-Eyes Art: The Visual Ecology Exhibit @ MassArt Student Life Gallery, Kennedy Bldg., 621 Huntington Ave., 2nd Floor, Boston
When: April 14-1:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: Anatomy, evolution, and art - MassArt students’ multi-media work on animal eyes.

What: Making Science Toys IV @ Beaver Brook Reservation, Waltham line, Waverley Oaks Road
When: April 14, 3:00pm - 5:30pm
Why: Aimed at kids, this course teaches how to make cool science toys - can adults come too?

What: H2Oratorio: A Deluge of Songs @ The Museum of Science, Cahners Theater
When: April 14, 5:00pm - 6:30pm (and again April 21, 2:00pm - 3:30pm)
Why: Songs about H20 with scientifically accurate lyrics? Sounds pretty good.

What: Hi-Fi-Sci: Music & Science Animation @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 14, 7:30pm - 10:00pm
Why: Composers and scientists come together for a presentation of musical interpretations of scientific visualizations. Science communication and art!

  L:, R:

Monday, April 15

What: Broader Impacts: How to Talk About Your Work with the Media @ MIT Building 34, Room 101 (50 Vassar St., Cambridge)
When: April 15, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: Science in the media: what is the best way for scientists to get their work known?

Tuesday, April 16

What: Science & Poetry @ Cambridge Public Library, Lecture Hall, 449 Broadway, Cambridge
When: April 16, 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Why: Scientists, poets, writers, discussion: how can science and poetry work together?


Storytellers Seth Mnookin and Anna Wexler from the Collider!

What: The Story Collider @ Johnny D's, 17 Holland Street, Davis Square, Somerville
When: April 16, 7:30pm - 10:00pm
Why: Six people entertain with true stories about science.

Wednesday, April 17

What: A Science Author Salon with Emily Anthes author of Frankenstein's Cat @ ZuZu Bar, 474 Mass Ave., Central Square, Cambridge
When: April 17, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Why: A talk about animal biotechnology from author Emily Anthes, co-presented by Nerd Nite Boston

Thursday, April 18

What: Science (Pub) Crawl, 3D Printing and Nature-Inspired Product Design Drop-in design workshops with Nervous System Design Studio @ Xylem, 287 3rd St., Kendall Sq. Free, 21+ cash bars 
When: April 18, 5:00pm-6:00pm
Why: What could be cooler?!?! Plus you're probably thirsty...

What: What Will it Take: Plugging the Leaky STEM Pipeline @ The Broad Institute Auditorium, 7 Cambridge Center, Kendall Square
When: April 18, 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Why: A roundtable discussion on problems and possible solutions for the cracks in STEM programming.

Friday, April 19

What: Making Movies, Making Science @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 19, 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Why: Short films by MIT students about science and technology, plus a Q&A

What: Trimpin: The Sound of Invention film screening and Q&A @ MIT Building 34, Room 101 (50 Vassar St., Cambridge)
When: April 19, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Why: Screening of doc about innovative sound artist Trimpin, his creative process, and his amazing accomplishments. Q&A with Trimpin afterwards!

What: Rites of Passage by Quicksilver Dance @ MIT Simmons Hall(229 Vassar Street, Cambridge)
When: April 19, 8:00pm- 9:30pm (and again April 20 at 8:00pm- 9:30pm)
Why: Dance interpretations including the process of evolution and movements of early lifeforms.

Saturday, April 20

What: Science & Comics @ Cambridge Public Library, Lecture Hall, 449 Broadway, Cambridge
When: April 20, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: Comic artists and scientists discuss the possibilities within their collaborations

What: Living in the Future: Pop Culture Meets Today's Technology @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 20, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Why: Discussion and clips of futuristic films, and learn how close scientists are to those fantastic representations.

What: The Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses @ MIT 26-100
When: April 20, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Why: Hilarious and improbable explanations of evolutionary theory given to a panel of judges.

Sunday, April 21

What: Art and Nature: Illustrating Urban Wildlife @ Danehy Park, 99 Sherman St., Cambridge
When: April 21, 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Why: Collect real specimens and learn to make art with natural inspiration from Cambridge wildlife.

What: Sci-Fi Radio Drama Double-Feature: LIVE! @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 21, 2:00pm - 4:30pm
Why: Experience science-fiction tales as they used to be on the radio, and then learn about some of the innovative sound techniques with effects artists!

What: Ocean Stories: A Synergy of Art and Science @ The Museum of Science
When: April 12-21, 9:00am-5:00pm
Why: See the experimental work resulting from collaborations between MIT and Woods Hole Oceaonographic Institution scientists and local artists. @sciart_synergy
Follow the exhibit on Twitter: @sciart_synergy and Facebook:

When you hit a Cambridge Science Fest (@CSFTweets) event be sure to post a photo or comment on Facebook or Twitter using #CambSciFest. We shall see you there!

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events SciArt SciComm Science Social Media STEM to STEAM Tags #cambscifest, cambridge science festival #sciart, #scicomm, #bostonarts, Boston events, MIT, MIT Museum, Boston Sciart, Museum of Science, Ocean Stories, Story Collider, Artisan's Asylum, Central Square Theater, Harvard, Cambridge Public LIbrary, The Broad Institute, STEM, Trimpin Seth Mnookin, Anna Wexler

Mar 20, 2013



The incredible and often ephemeral work of sculptor Andy Goldsworthy is deservedly legendary. Goldsworthy uses geometric shapes like spheres, spirals, squares, and circles, as well as archeological structures like cairns and arches, to create mind-blowing works out of, say, leaves of grass, rowanberries, intertidal sand, icicles, sticks. Goldsworthy’s interest in natural elements and materials lends itself to a study of time, decay, climate, and season. As his pieces are frequently melted, blown away, washed away, or eaten by wildlife, photography and film have been important throughout his career as a means to document both the process of creation as well as the way the work weathers after Goldsworthy is finished with it.

The Arches NZ, Gibbs Farm (2005) Photo Credit: Murray Robinson

Years ago, Andy Goldsworthy created a site-specific work for Gibbs Farm in New Zealand where I have done some work. The Arches (NZ) is a series of eleven freestanding stone arches marching to sea, and it somehow reminds one of the Loch Ness monster. The sandstone hails from a quarry near Goldsworthy’s home in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, which was also the home of art patron Alan Gibbs’ ancestors prior to their emigration to New Zealand. The Arches are held together by nothing but gravity and the principle of a perfectly-designed keystone, although very sturdy foundations were built to support them permanently. When I visited Gibbs Farm to film for the New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor and Lightning Dreams: The Electrum documentaries I finally got to experience The Arches for myself. The work is at once natural and man-made, complementing its environment while being shaped by it. The work is dynamic and constantly changing depending on the season, water level, tides, light, and time of day. It seems to provide a framework or lens through which one can observe nature with heightened appreciation.

The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, located (near us!) in Lincoln, MA, has been working with Goldsworthy since 2009 to commission a permanent outdoor sculpture for their collection. The Artist proposes to build the sculpture Snow House. To support the proposal, the DeCordova ran an exhibition of photographs and films of Goldsworthy’s other work with ice and snow, as well as frequent screenings of the brilliant documentary film Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time. The museum has just recently celebrated the completion of this capital fundraising campaign and is moving forward with planning the installation.

Goldsworthy’s Snow House sculpture will be built into the bank of a lake, and it is modelled after historical structures which were used to preserve through the summer ice cut from local ponds. Into this structure a large snowball will be placed. Each summer, the structure will be opened to reveal what is left of the snowball, which will eventually melt once exposed. Then, once winter comes again, the staff of the DeCordova and community members will build another snowball from the first significant snowfall of the year, which will be closed in the structure to repeat the process the following year. This cycle of permanence, degeneration, and interactivity brings several different issues to the fore: a relationship with the seasons, a potential attendance to the effects of climate change, historical processes of ice-cutting and preservation, the passage of time, and a reliance on both the natural world and the community to perpetuate the cycle of artistic creation.

L: R:

Much of Goldsworthy’s work to date with ice and snow has been extremely temporary. It will be fascinating, then, to see how Snow House plays across both permanence and cyclical decay. For instance, Goldsworthy frequently lies down just as it begins to rain or snow, creating rain and frost shadows which last long enough to be photographed and immediately appreciated before disappearing. Likewise, he has held his hand against thin, spring ice, melting away a handprint in the sheet before the sheet itself disappears with the sun. Some works depend on the melting away of snow or ice for their gradual effect: like snow heaped into a line in a field and left to thaw slowly; snow balls stained with dye from beech nuts, thawed on paper, and dried, leaving pools of stain on the paper; snowballs brought indoors (for instance at the Old Museum of Transport, Glasgow) or placed on display outdoors during summer (in London); and, finally, snow slabs, carved to let the light shine through before they melt in the sun.

The science behind Goldsworthy’s work and techniques is in many ways more intuitive than exact. Though Goldsworthy rarely talks specifically about the science or math underlying his work, his father was a mathematics professor, and his brother, with whom he lived, studied a biology course at university. In his works, Goldsworthy uses natural materials, works with colors and shapes found in nature and in the landscape which surrounds him, and relies on time and decay to add to as well as detract from the shapes and images he leaves behind. Sand sculptures rely on the relentless tide for timing, excitement, and erosion. Patterns of leaves and sticks on river or stream surfaces are pulled by the current to create only vaguely-predictable visual delights. The fact that Goldsworthy returns time and again to similar structures, patterns, and shapes, as well as materials, shows a (perhaps unconscious) alignment with practices of experimentation and redesign familiar to scientific researchers.

Part of Goldsworthy’s process involves a familiarity with space and terrain, with the entire environment of the place he has chosen to work. This includes local and available materials, histories, and seasons. He often explains that he discovers and develops the work through the materials available as they exist on the day; spending more time in a space allows him to deepen his relationship and build on previous work done there. Goldsworthy was invited to visit the DeCordova Sculpture Park during the winter of 2010. Through research and subsequent visits, he developed the project which he then proposed. For the DeCordova piece, he incorporates the changing season into his design, along with historical structures, and historical uses of natural materials like ice and lake landscapes.

We now look forward to the chance to closely observe and perhaps experience the development and creation of a Goldsworthy sculpture at the DeCordova Museum. We are ridiculously excited to welcome this permanent-ish work from Goldsworthy to our neighborhood, and can’t wait to watch as he builds it, and as it melts, shifts, and regenerates each season.

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Stay tuned to ASKlabs blog for upcoming posts on the (Harold “Doc”) Edgerton Center at MIT, as well as coverage of the grand re-opening of the SF Exploratorium Museum by a special guest blogger!

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CommentsCategories UK Art Boston Environment Events March 2013 SciArt Tags Andy Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides, Gibbs Farm, Alan Gibbs, Decordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Alberta Chu

Feb 28, 2013

Visualizing Science: Seeing Unseen Forms

Visualizing Science: Seeing Unseen Forms

The recent AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) conference, organized by the publishers of Science, brought thousands of attendees to Boston's Hynes Convention Center. This year's #AAASmtg, entitled "The Beauty and Benefits of Science" grabbed our attention because that's exactly what we focus on here at ASKlabs. Read on to hear about the most interesting #sciart talks of the conference: "Artful Science" which looked at the science and math behind the natural world; and the "Beauty and Utility of Scientific Images" symposium which presented tools scientists have developed to visualize the invisible - from cells to stars.

Organized by science and art education pioneer John R. Jungck of Beloit College, WI, the Artful Science symposium made connections across disciplines, exploring the intersection of art and science through mathematical equations and biological forms. Panelists Maura FlanneryRobert J. KrawczykJo Ellis-Monaghan, and mathematician/engineer turned sculptor George W. Hart dazzled participants with examples from botany, seashells, and mathematics-inspired sculpture. Professor Flannery opened with "Herbaria are works of art that are essential to science." Herbaria, an early field of science gave rise to botanical illustrations. With the advent of the printing press and reproducible drawings the field of botany was born.

Robert Krawczyk, an architect from Illinois Institute for Technology, explores chaos theory. He says, "Scientific phenomena have an artistic aesthetic. I may see things in there that scientists may not see." You can see his works online:

Why do we have such an immediate aesthetic response to seashells? Because seashells are self-similar, there is a sense of a repeating shape, a pattern. Presenter Jo Ellis-Monaghan spoke about "Seashells, Math and the Natural World" arguing that mathematics is both a creative language, and a language for describing reality. If she could write down the equations for a shimmering ocean surface, she said, she would give them to friends in the midwest. Seashells have helical spirals, and their mathematical model can also be used to recreate fossils and to figure out the structure of ancient ammonites. Seashell models are also a good introduction to vector modelling for students. On the left below is an example of Delauney triangulation and on the right, Voronoi fractals:


George W. Hart, (creator of the scupture shown below) is inspired by various forms and aesthetics, many of which are found under the sea. His large-scale works, made from materials ranging from books, and steel, to plastic from 3D printers, can be seen in major museums and public spaces. He recently helped to establish the Museum of Mathematics in NYC, AND he's Vi Hart's Dad! How cool is that?

Professor John R. Jungck, founder of Bioquest, emphasized the importance of beauty, fun, and collaboration. "Mathematics is a lens that allows us to see," he says, and adds that seeing is: doing, measuring, re-visioning, and modelling, all of which leads to a deeper understanding of how forms and patterns come about. He recommended Ernst Haeckel's book Art Forms in Nature and pled for educators to combine art and science in the classroom. And of course no presentation on form is complete without mention of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, pioneering mathematical biologist, author of the definitive tome "On Growth and Form" (1917). His observations of phyllotaxis (numerical relationships between spiral structures and the Fibonacci sequence) have become a textbook staple.

The symposium The Beauty and Utility of Scientific Images organized by Kartik Sheth, Associate Astronomor, NRAO (moderator) and Margaret Meixner, Astronomer, Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) transported participants beyond the visible worlds of seashells and plants, diving into invisible worlds. This symposium included diverse perspectives on the use of scientific imagery for research and public engagement in the fields of astronomy, environmental sciences, molecular biology, and neuroradiology.

Each speaker explained the process of creation and the use of imagery in making visible what is otherwise unseeable, with the aim of showing how visualizations contribute to new and pivotal research, as well as inspiring global movements and engaging the public. Stefi Baum pointed out that sophisticated instruments allow astronomers to capture images of phenomena on other wavelengths that are not on the visual spectrum. This not only creates beautiful and fascinating imagery, but also provides new data for astronomical interpretation.

Molecular Biologist Tom Kirchhausen uses multimedia imagery to both develop and communicate his research. He included examples of “molecular snapshots”, live movies, and “molecular movies” to illustrate the ways that visualizations aid research in the study of cellular clathrin coats. Both Kirchhausen and Baum gave evidence that images help scientists study phenomena which are either too far away or too small to see or observe. In fact, Kirchhausen provided an excellent dynamic visual to illustrate scale (check it out!) to explain just how tiny his object of study is, and why molecular snapshots and molecular movies are needed for his lab's work. Kirchhausen asked: are scientific images simply a visual record of our work? How can they be used to transmit knowledge and interpretation? Should visual aesthetics influence the scientific endeavor? 

David Yousem, Professor of Radiology at the John Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore, MD, explained that images can aid surgeons -- images of the brain and its pathways mapped onto surgical cases can help surgeons avoid disrupting important functioning parts of the brain. Yousem claims that these radiographs have also been mistaken for paintings when hung on a wall!

Imagery is an integral part of research across scientific fields. At the intersection of science and art we find the fuel that drives innovation and advances technology, knowledge, the humanities, culture, and society. Scientific imagery is also a key aspect of communicating science to the public and engaging the public in the importance of science research. This year's AAAS meeting was an amazing gathering of scientists, visualization and communications experts, and educators, exemplifying the fascinating and dynamic relationships between science and art. Whether researching the visible world around us, microscopic cellular functions, or galaxies far far away, scientists' utility of images and visualizations are a vital part of the scientific endeavor.

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Thanks to @RaphaelRosen22 for the livetweetage

Stay tuned for the scoop on #scicommsecrets and Social Media for Scientists #AAASsms.

CommentsCategories Art Boston Environment Events February 2013 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media

Feb 5, 2013

“New Form at the Farm” SCREENINGS at The PEM - Feb. 2. 2013

“New Form at the Farm” SCREENINGS at The PEM - Feb. 2. 2013

Another awesome day for “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1”. The Peabody Essex Museum was a popular destination on Saturday as the closing day of the "Hats" exhibit concurred with the opening day of the museum’s new exhibit, "Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India After Independence" and our screening.

A big THANKS to everybody who came along for our Saturday screenings at the Peabody Essex! We hope had as much fun as we did. Our audience included families, filmmakers, design geeks and of course the South End hipsters rolled in, which made for lively Q&A discussions!


Gibbs Farm is indeed visible on Googlemaps satellite photos and the Kapoor sculpture is quite prominent: (See if you can spot the Serra!)

View Larger Map

We especially want to thank Jennifer Evans, Manager of Programs at the PEM for putting these fantastic screenings together. 

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events February 2013 Social Media UK US World

Jan 31, 2013

Outdoors with Anish Kapoor

Outdoors with Anish Kapoor

ArcelorMittal Orbit

This weekend’s screening of “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1 at the Peabody Essex Museum chronicles Kapoor’s largest permanent outdoor sculpture to date at Gibbs Farm in New Zealand. But Dismemberment Site 1 isn’t his only large outdoor piece. In fact, the sculptor is well known for his large public works. We’ll share a few here, from the simple and remote The Eye in the Stone in the northern reaches of Norway to the mammoth and controversial ArcelorMittal Orbit, part of London’s 2012 Olympic Park.

Many of Kapoor’s outdoor sculptures are what he calls “Mirror Objects.” The most famous of these is Cloud Gate, otherwise known as “The Bean,” in Chicago’s Millenium Park. Though Kapoor dislikes the work’s nickname, it is an extremely popular sculpture, drawing tourists and film crews alike. In fact, several Chicago-set films have used Cloud Gate since its completion, including Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011), The Break-Up (Peyton Reed, 2006), and The Vow (Michael Sucsy, 2012). The work itself is shaped like a bean, and is highly reflective on all sides. Its shape allows visitors to pass under the sculpture, adding to the interactivity of the already reflective piece. On Kapoor’s website you can find some cool plans and drawings for the work, too.

Other Mirror Objects include the various Sky Mirror pieces. These are both permanent and travelling pieces, concave mirrored discs often placed at an angle or hammered irregularly so that they both reflect and distort. These can be found permanently at The Nottingham Playhouse in England, and The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Other versions have appeared in exhibitions at the Rockefeller Center in New York, Kensington Gardens in London, and the Brighton Pavilion Gardens for the Brighton Festival in England. Last year a similar mirror object was attached to a wall at the Storm King Art Center, and one is currently in place as a part of Koelnskulptur 6 in Germany.

Dismemberment Site 1, while similar to several of Kapoor’s other works (mostly indoor works, such as Marsyas at the Tate Modern 2002) is another beast altogether: huge and red and constantly changing in relation to perspective, it both complements the famous mirror objects and doesn’t merely reflect the landscape: it transforms it. Find out for yourself at Saturday’s screenings, 11am and 2:30pm.

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CommentsCategories Art DocFilm Environment Events January 2013 SciArt Social Media UK US World

Jan 30, 2013

Art Docs for the Tots

Art Docs for the Tots

It's never too early to get your children interested in innovation, collaboration, engineering, and the design process! The scale, playfulness of design, color, and the aspiration of great art all make “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1” a great documentary for kids. It’s showing this Saturday at 11am and 2:30pm at the Peabody Essex Museum, so the timing is perfect too! To gear up for these screenings, we thought we'd share other documentaries about art that the whole family can enjoy.

Legendary documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles (also hailing from Boston) have a slate of films about the large-scale outdoor works of artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. From “Christo’s Valley Curtain” (1973) to “The Gates” (2007), the collaboration between filmmakers and artists has meant that many of these temporary works, and the struggles behind them, are preserved for future audiences. While Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1 is a permanent installation in the landscape, “New Form at the Farm” likewise captures the difficulty of getting artwork of such proportions built. Other films in the Maysles/Christo vein are “Running Fence” (1978), “Islands” (1986), “Christo in Paris” (1986) and “Umbrellas” (1994). For older kids, Albert Maysles also made a more involved film about the planning and building of LA’s Getty Center, called “Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center” (1997).

If your kids are into design and architecture, they would also love “Eames: The Architect and the Painter” (2011), a film directed by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey about designers and artists Charles and Ray Eames, narrated by James Franco, which is streaming on the PBS website.

Or, if you think your kids might be more interested in watching other kids achieve artistic heights, there are some great films about children in the arts. “First Position” (2011) is a film directed by Bess Kargman, documenting a handful of entrants in the Youth America Grand Prix, a ballet competition. The film focuses on the stories of the competitors, and the hard work and sacrifices necessary for these kids to follow their dancing dreams. “Mad Hot Ballroom” 2005, directed by Marilyn Agrelo, is another film about kids dancing, this time in the New York based city-wide elementary school ballroom dance competition.

Films are definitely a fun way to introduce children to art and artists. Even more so, films about huge,  temporary, or faraway artworks allow kids to experience the process of thinking up great art, and then making it happen. Show your kids how to think big, following Anish Kapoor’s example. We hope to see you Saturday at the Peabody Essex Museum for our screenings of “New Form at the Farm”; admission to these screenings is FREE with museum admission. Hope to see you there!

Facebook Event Page:
PEM Museum listing:
Boston Central Listing - Family activities - includes some reviews:

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CommentsCategories Art DocFilm Environment January 2013 SciArt Science UK US World

Jan 22, 2013

#SCIART Current Events: Boston and Beyond

#SCIART Current Events: Boston and Beyond

Photo Credit: David Maisel’s History’s Shadow

Thanks to everyone who submitted to our BLUR Art & Science Pinterest Contest! Here are some ongoing and upcoming events in the world of Art and Science for you to check out:

Ongoing at FACT Liverpool: Noisy Table, an interactive ping pong table which emits sound as games are played, and Winter Sparks, a show in which four new media artists play with electricity and Tesla coils (both shows until February 24).

January 24: DIY BIO led by Romie Littrel at the Broad Art Center in Los Angeles

January 24: Maya Lin speaks at the Central Library in Copley Square, Boston

January 24: Brazilian animator Guilherme Marcondes presents the work from MIT Game Lab workshop at MIT Museum

January 28: Science on Screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre presents Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998) with a talk by Steven Schlozman, MD

January 30: A Symposium with Gallery talk by Swiss Landscape Architects at Boston Architectural College

February 6: LASER event at Stanford University with talks on various subjects as well as an exercise to encourage discussion of ongoing art and science projects. (Next event April 4.)

February 14: Chemical Romance workshop led by Christina Agapakis at Broad Art Center in Los Angeles

February 15: Compass Points: Joël Tettamanti opens at the MIT Museum with work that focuses on the impact of humans on their environment and landscape.

February 16: Ocean Stories: A Synergy of Art and Science at the Museum of Science, Boston.

February 25-March 24: Encounters Between Art and Science, an exhibit at The British Library by artists on the Art and Science MA programme at Central St Martins - the work is all inspired by the Library and its science collections, and runs alongside Inspiring Science, a series of events and workshops which runs from March 11 to March 24 at The British Library.

Various events held by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences can be found here, taking place in California and Cambridge, MA.

Various events held by the UCLA Art│Sci Center and Lab

For more ideas about exhibits in the coming year, the Smithsonian blog Collage of Arts and Sciences has some recommendations too.

So check out some of these events if they’re near you while we wait for the BLUR contest results!

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events January 2013 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media UK US World

Jan 18, 2013



Last night’s World Premiere of New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1 at the RISD Art Museum was great. We were thrilled to share our films about the creation of landscape sculptures at Gibbs Farm with the RISD community, and Producer/Director Alberta Chu and Editor Stephanie Munroe enjoyed the Q&A afterwards with such an engaged audience of filmmakers, artists, and designers.

It was so interesting to see the New Form at the Farm documentary alongside our 2004 film Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra’s Tuhirangi Contour. Thanks to Deborah Clemons, Associate Educator, Public Programs, at the RISD Art Museum for programming such a nice event. A big THANKS to everyone who attended, and especially those who travelled up from NYC and down from Boston.

A group of us from Boston jumped on the Amtrak and headed down to Providence in the afternoon to explore RISD’s Nature Lab as well as the RISD Museum prior to showtime. RISD is one of the centers of the STEM to STEAM movement, which strives to change public policy by adding the "A" (for art and design) back into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculum of public education. Last night, we learned that RISD President @JohnMaeda is a prime mover in this area. EVENT PHOTOS

We hope to see you at our next event, a screening of New Form at the Farm at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum on February 2!

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events SciArt Social Media STEM to STEAM UK US World

Jan 15, 2013



Dismemberment Site 1 at Gibbs Farm. Anish Kapoor. 2009

Our documentary film “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1” will be having its World Premiere this week at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI. At the premiere we will also be showing our 2004 film “Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra’s Te Tuhirangi Contour.”  Both of these films explore the planning and execution of large-scale sculpture projects within a landscape, and both are set on Gibbs Farm in New Zealand, but what about other sculpture parks around the world?

While Gibbs Farm is 1000 acres, two of the next biggest sculpture parks in the world are around 500 acres each and feature internationally renowned artists: The Storm King Art Center in New York state and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England. Storm King features work by artists Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, David Smith, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Andy Goldsworthy, and Isamu Noguchi, while Yorkshire includes work by Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Sophie Ryder, and Barbara Hepsworth, and is free of charge. Both are must-see parks for anyone interested in large-scale sculpture. Further afield, Norway has several parks, including two which feature work by Anish Kapoor (Artscape Nordland and Kistefos-Museet Sculpture Park) as well as the largest park dedicated to the work of a single artist, the Vigeland Museum and Sculpture Park, which features the work of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. In South Africa, the NIROX Foundation Sculpture Park, which is set in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, aims to “advance Africa’s place in the global contemporary arts” and provides a residency program, temporary exhibits, and a museum in addition to the park. On Naoshima Island in Japan, the Benesse Art Site Naoshima offers both outdoor and indoor commissioned and site-specific work, and visitors can experience the art over a series of days, as the Site also includes four hotel facilities, renovated by architect Tadao Ando.

Guilin YUZI Paradise Sculpture Park (

Some newer sculpture parks include the Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh, Scotland, which includes commissioned work by Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, and Anish Kapoor. The park opened in May 2009. The Guilin YUZI Paradise Sculpture Park in China also recently opened to the public after an extensive phased construction, and, alongside its spectacular surrounding landscape, represents an exciting addition to the field. In Brazil, the Insituto Inhotim has a superb collection of sculpture and contemporary art which features Brazilian and international artists. Their gardens, recently officially made Botanical Gardens, hold the biggest palm collection in the world.

In Santa Barbara, CA, David Bermant’s incredible collection of sculpture melds science, technology, and art, and can be found exhibited in locations throughout the city of Santa Barbara.

Researchers at the University of Birbeck, London, with the help of San Francisco Bay Area sculptor James Benbow Bullock, have created an International Directory of Sculpture Parks. Though by no means exhaustive you can browse by location or search by park or artist name. So if you’re looking for an art pilgrimmage this site will help.

In the meantime, if you are in New England this week, you can enjoy the lush vistas of Gibbs Farm without getting on a plane at our RISD Museum World Premiere of “New Form at the Farm,” where you can learn more about Anish Kapoor and Richard Serra’s exciting work in New Zealand. January 17th @ 6:30.


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CommentsCategories Art Environment January 2013 SciArt UK US World

Jan 3, 2013


2012 was a busy year for ASKlabs: filmmaking, social media, researching new ideas and stories, and an excellent film premiere. We participated in our first hackathon, went to our first Meetup, and made our first microdocumentary (super short film). Additional 2012 highlights include artist Tom Sachs' "Mission to Mars" installation at the Park Street Armory, Ai Weiwei at the the Hirshhorn Museum, Lauren Greenfield's documentary film "Queen of Versailles," meeting popular science author Steven Johnson, attending the World Congress of Science Producers conference in DC, and being safe inside a Faraday cage while being zapped with 1 megavolt of electricity.

We completed our film “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm,” in February and had an excellent film premiere event at the Boston Museum of Science in November as part of their "When Art Meets Science" film series. San Francisco high-voltage engineer Greg Leyh appeared in person and Daniel Davis dazzled our audience with an amazing show of electricity in the MOS Theater of Electricity; the event was lauded in the Boston Globe and sold out.  Audience members and MOS staff all agreed that our event “Lightning Strikes” exceeded every expectation. We are extremely grateful to our friend and supporter, Boston artist and inventor (and sometimes museum consultant) Steve Hollinger for making this happen. Thanks to Lisa Monrose and Jennifer Garrett at the Museum of Science. West-coast and European premieres of the film are being planned for 2013. Stay tuned for details.

ASKlabs continues to develop films that increase public awareness and knowledge of global climate change. One greatly impacted area is the coral reef ecosystem. For that project we travelled to Cancun, Mexico to film the underwater sculptures of Jason de Cairnes Taylor which are seeded to help coral regenerate. The film will be completed in Spring of 2013.

In August, ASKlabs produced the microdocumentary “Putting it Together: The Modular Car” about group of MIT students leveraging crowd-sourced innovation to build a fuel-efficient modular vehicle - this car is to be developed in 2014 will do better than 200mpge. Filmed on location at MIT's Edgerton Center, thanks to Camilla Brinkman for helping to make this happen.

We jumped into transmedia when the Zeega/Tribeca Film Festival Hackathon accepted our interactive documentary concept about the late 19th century War of Currents between Edison and Tesla; during the day-long Hackathon we created films with other media-makers and artists using the novel new browser-based editing software developed by Jesse Shapins and his crew at Zeega in Cambridge. 

ASKlabs is currently in the midst of the BLUR pinterest contest - people from around the world are submitting Pinterest boards of images that say "beautiful science." We’re excited to bring the international emerging art/science community together as we approach the January 15th deadline for submissions.

At the close of 2012, we are developing what we believe is the perfect science-art documentary. We’ll reveal more as soon as we can.

We hope to see you at one of our screenings or events in 2013, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta. Thank you for your enthusiam and support always!


Alberta Chu

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events January 2013 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media UK US World

Nov 7, 2012



Photo: Boston MOS' Daniel Davis and Greg Leyh

Last night, Greg arrived from San Francisco and we had a meeting at the Museum of Science with Jennifer Garrett to plan tonight's events. Daniel Davis and Greg Leyh had a lot to talk about. Here they are chatting inside one of the spheres at the top of the MOS' Van de Graaff generator - I have to say that Greg was impressed with the Theater of Electricity and we're all set to have a BLAST tonight!


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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events November 2012 SciArt Science US World

Nov 5, 2012

Greg Leyh: An Engineer with an Artistic Framework (Part 3)

Greg Leyh: An Engineer with an Artistic Framework (Part 3)

Alberta Chu: How is it safe to be inside the Electrum’s sphere while measuring streamers?

Greg Leyh: Electrum was also the first coil designed to operate at power levels higher than 100,000 watts.  This required developing a unique 4-armature rotary gap design, 3-phase-to-DC power conversion, and a finite-element high voltage electrode design large enough for a person to climb inside.

After we got the Electrum working, we had to operate it a maximum capacity for a required number of hours in order to test it. These turned into big events in San Francisco. We even got the chance to stage some performance art of our own. Oddly enough, the space inside Electrum’s high voltage electrode is one of the safest places to be while the coil is operating.  The person inside the electrode is protected by Faraday’s Law, which states that the electric field inside a conductor is zero.  Ironically, the audience standing around the coil is exposed to much higher electric fields as they marvel at the brave soul inside the electrode. A couple of months after this photo was taken, we shipped the Electrum off to New Zealand.

AC: We’re all dying to know - how does one build the world’s largest tesla coil? Tell us about the unique ‘firsts’ for the Electrum sculpture.

Greg Leyh: The Electrum sculpture lives outdoors and needs to withstand exposure to a harsh seaside climate for decades.  This is definitely a first for Tesla Coil design.  To guard against the harsh environment the entire coil form was literally built ‘inside-out’ -- The secondary coil is molded to the inside wall of the cylindrical fiberglass tower, and the primary drive coil resides *inside* the secondary coil.  Although there was no precedent for this approach, calcs and simulations supported the idea, and ultimately the test of time proved it out.

The Electrum consumes the power of 50 homes when it’s being operated.

AC: You visited the Farm to do a tune-up on the Electrum a couple of years ago - how did you find things there?

GL: In 2009, about 10 years after the initial installation, I was asked to visit the Farm and diagnose an apparent internal arcing issue with Electrum.  Fearing the worst, I brought a full complement of diagnostic gear, and scheduled 10 days to work on the problem.  As it turned out, the salty environment had managed to corrode an open hole through a 3/8” steel plate at the top of the tower, allowing saltwater, cobwebs and bird guano to freely enter and completely coat the high voltage windings inside the tower.  Fortunately there was no permanent damage, and I only had to spend a couple of days hanging from a rope inside the tower, cleaning the winding surfaces.  Once cleaned and the steel plate replaced, the coil ran just like I remembered.  Aside from Electrum, the Farm itself changed dramatically between 1998 and 2009.  So many new and incredible sculptures.  I walked around the extents of the Farm for days.  It’s a fantastic, very meditative place.


San Francisco High-Voltage Engineer Greg Leyh, the builder of the world’s biggest tesla coil, will be appearing in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity. Buy your tickets in advance:

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events November 2012 SciArt Science US World

Oct 31, 2012

Filmmaker Alberta Chu: The Science of Art

Filmmaker Alberta Chu: The Science of Art

Boston-based documentary filmmaker Alberta Chu loves to combine two passions––art and science––in her work. She does it yet again in her latest film, Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm (2011), which premieres November 7 at Boston’s Museum of Science. Alberta’s fourth documentary, Lightning Dreams highlights the story of Alan Gibbs, one of New Zealand’s most prolific art patrons.

She took the time to talk with me about her career path, the journey leading up to this film, and the voice that she hopes to offer her subjects in the fields of art and science.

ASTRID LIUM: How did you get involved with documentary filmmaking?

ALBERTA CHU: I started out as a biologist, [and] I worked as a researcher in L.A. at a biotech company. I had always wanted to get into journalism, and I thought maybe science documentaries could be a way for me to use my science background and break into documentary or journalism. I started a science consulting company, [where] scientists who were tops in their fields would consult with Hollywood screenwriters and set decorators for accuracy. We worked on one of the X-Men films to develop the Wolverine character [and] help them figure out what his supernatural powers would be. It was a way for them to bounce ideas off scientists and get more creative.

How did working as a researcher lead to documentary films?

I did a segment on volcano research. As a researcher there were tons of stories being produced all the time, and I met tons of producers and directors. Most of the stories I would pitch were science, and on one of the shoots I was producing for Sci-Fi Channel I met Greg Leyh, the guy in my film that is premiering at the Museum of Science. I found out that he was building the world’s biggest tesla coil for this billionaire art collector in New Zealand. I pitched it around L.A., but no one wanted to do it, so I decided to make an independent documentary film called The Electrum about the project in the year 2000 about the Electrum sculpture. That film played at a lot of festivals, aired on PBS, won a bunch of awards.

What is the documentary about?

The film was about a quirky group of scientists and engineers that build the world’s largest tesla coil, which ends up in New Zealand. But the guy who commissioned it––the billionaire–– gave me permission to do the film but he didn’t want to be in it. He was very private at the time. His name is Alan Gibbs and he’s ... just totally cool. He’s building a giant sculpture park and the reason he likes art is the likes the mental sparring with the artists. He likes to push them to do better work. He pushes everyone around him, you can see why he’s so successful because he never settles for anything. He’s always pushing for more ... so that’s why he’s the owner of the world’s biggest tesla coil!

How is your relationship with Alan?

He’s bigger than life. It’s been so interesting to have interactions with him, and he likes my films. So he’s been sort of like my patron, in a way. So he invited me to do the Serra film (2003-04), then the Anish Kapoor film (2009-10). Then he asked me to do a film about the Electrum sculpture in 2010, about 10 years after the original film was made. He wanted this new film to include his perspective. The new film, Lightning Dreams, is about the conception and the whole story of the sculpture.

Why do you do the work you do?

I make films about scientists and artists because they see things that aren’t there yet. They’re envisioning the future and I think that’s really inspiring. They inspire me to make films about them, and my hope is that my films will inspire other people to push boundaries of what’s known and unknown and to look and wonder and dream themselves. Because that’s the only thing that humans can do that computers can’t. There’s something about creativity that’s impossible to articulate. I mean science and art really are the same thing and they have become very divergent in today’s culture.

How do you choose the topics for your documentaries?

I’m about making films about creative people that are changing the world for the better, who want to make a difference. I make films about scientists that are making a difference, trying to make the world a better place. If I can give a voice ... I can help them announce their victories and inspire people to help with what they’re doing. I can help them get out their important messages because they are doing very important work. A lot of time they can’t explain it to a regular audience, and I can help.

Do you feel like you’re a translator in some way?

Yes, translating ideas and concepts for a general audience, totally. I hope to be. And same with artists.

It can be a challenge, though.

Yeah, it’s hard to create something. It’s not easy, none of it’s easy, it’s all work. It can be very rewarding work, but if I can help a scientist or artist expose their labors and their victories ... and their failures to a wider audience, that’s what I’m about -- finding the most interesting creative people in the world, and telling stories that really inspire people to create.

- Interview by Astrid Lium, Twitter: @astridspeak 

The world premiere of Lightning Dreams is November 7, 2012, at 6:45 p.m. at Boston’s Museum of Science (1 Museum of Science Drive, Boston, MA). The screening is part of the museum’s “Lightning Strikes” event, one of the Fall 2012 adult offerings. For more information:
Facebook Event Page 
MOS Event Page

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events October 2012 SciArt SciComm Science US World Tags Alan Gibbs, Lightning Dreams, art, science, documentary film, alberta chu, museum of science, boston greg leyh

Oct 12, 2012

More ASKlabs Events on the Horizon

More ASKlabs Events on the Horizon

This just in: the RISD Museum will be holding the world premiere screening of our 2010 film "New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor Dismemberment Site 1" along with an old favorite, our 2004 film "Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra's Tuhirangi Contour." Back in 2004 "Seeing the Landscape" screened at the MFA Boston, the MIT List, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Gallery of art as part of the Washington DC Environmental Film Festival as well as at the Festival of Films on Art in Montreal. 

Both films will be screened on the same night, and we're looking at Jan./Feb. 2013.

Hope you can make it and please help spread the word!

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events October 2012 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media US World

Apr 3, 2012

Check it out:

Fantastic screening at the New England Aquarium - a true call to action - this documentary illustrates how people can work together to bring about positive change. 

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