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Sunday, October 17, 2021

UC Davis professors give lectures about fusion of art, science

Several UC Davis professors gave lectures on the fusion of art and science at the Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous (LASER) event last Thursday, an event sponsored by the UC Davis Art and Science Fusion Program.

Founded in 2008, the LASER event consists of a series of lectures and presentations on science, art and technology. LASER events occur at a number of locations, primarily on college campuses.

The event began at 6:30 p.m. at the Plant and Environmental Sciences Building with a 30-minute socializing and networking opportunity for the public that included students, professors, scientists and interested community members.

Ventakesan Sundaresan, a professor of plant biology at UC Davis, gave the first lecture titled “Mysteries of the Kingdom: Sticking to One’s Roots, Managing Hormones and Spreading Genes.”

Sundaresan holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard and has done extensive research in plant behavior. His presentation described plant and animal adaptations to various environmental factors and detailed the inner-workings of how plants respond to light and touch.

The professor spoke about phototropism, a plant’s bending towards light, by showing time-lapse videos of plants moving and changing direction during the progression of the day or with a change in light source.

“Plants are very responsive to signals around them and they respond very quickly,” said Sundaresan.

Sundaresan concluded his presentation by connecting characteristics of plants and their behavior with musical rhythm, describing how the leaves of a plant are arranged in a precise, spiral pattern. The placement of the leaves proposes a rhythmic arrangement in a musical work.

“The leaf arrangement in a sunflower is five leaves spiraled around twice which is actually a rhythm commonly seen in Indian tabla music,” said Sundaresan, who then played an animation of sunflower leaves growing in a spiral pattern with the beat of a tabla in the background, their rhythms syncing.

The next speaker, Robin Hill, Art Studio professor at UC Davis, gave a presentation entitled, “The Conception of an Idea.” Her presentation began with quotes and ideas about art and what it means to produce it.

“Art is kind of counterintuitive and a bit contradictory that an artists must present his or her own work,” Hill said to the audience. “I’m going to share with you a self study and if it resonates with you, great. My goal with this presentation is to demystify an artist’s process.”

She exhibited her work with photography and showed pictures of both her old and new pieces of artwork.

Hill proposed the idea of taking something already established as a concept in the world and molding it and tampering with it to create a new piece of work.

“A lot of what an artist does depends on its reception in someone else’s mind,” she said.

Hill says she seeks out already established patterns in art she sees around her and attempts to enlarge and enhance a piece of it to make it her own; for example, she has created a piece made entirely of orange peels and a piece made up of old lab glassware.

Hill has also collaborated with Yanko Gravner, UC Davis professor of math, to combine geometric and mathematical designs with her work.

“I took his data visualizations of snowflakes and created them in space,” she said. “I made 20 of these 10-foot square snowflakes in cyanotypes. So it’s like new technology meeting old technology and kind of bringing it into my world.”

The next speaker was Christopher M. Dewees, marine fisheries specialist holding a Ph.D. in ecology at UC Davis, who gave a presentation entitled “Passion for Fish: When East Meets West.”

Dewees described his passion for fishing and his interest and involvement with fish biology, behavior and habitat. He said that he was introduced to Gyotaku, a traditional method of Japanese fish printing that originated in the mid-1800s.

“I was hooked,” he said. “I’m studying fish; my career is going to be in fish and now I can express this other part of me which has to do with art, with textures and with feeling things.”

Dewees detailed the process of Gyotaku beginning with lining the entire fish with ink and then pressing down on the fish with handmade Japanese papers. He described using his fingers to transfer the texture onto the paper and then redoing the process if he feels it necessary.

Dewees has worked with the commercial fish industry and with fishery management around the world.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of creating a different and beautiful piece of art,” Dewees said. “Having both a science career and doing work in art has allowed me to enjoy working with both fish and people.”

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