Victoria Vesna (1959, Washington D.C. ) is an artist, a lecturer, and the chair of the Department of Design | Media Arts at UCLA, School of the Arts and Architecture . Her work can be defined as experimental creative research that resides between disciplines and technologies. Since the ’80s she has been exploring digital and virtual worlds and the relationship between art and science.
New realities are generated by the meeting among artistic, humanistic and technological disciplines. Victoria Vesna is also the Director of the brand new UCLA Art|Sci Center and of the UC Digital Arts Research Network . She realized 16 personal works, she exposed hundreds of collectives, she published more than 20 researches and she has been participating in various conventions for years. She has an extremely strong and dynamic but also rigorous and creative personality. Her research is mainly aimed at exploring the relationship between art and science in an innovative and appealing way.
Victoria Vesna always works with researchers, artists and scientists. She recently collaborated with the scientist James Gimsewski ( Feynman Prize in nanotechnology in 1997, Physics Institute Duddell Prize in 2001, elective member of the Royal Academy of Engineering) with outstanding outcomes.
Silvia Scaravaggi: I would like to point most on what are your project nowadays and the way you are working on them. Talking about your recent activity on art-science and nanotech, how you and James Gimsewski started your collaboration? Why did you choose to go deep inside this matter?
Victoria Vesna: In 2001, I was co-organizing a conference called “From Networks to Nanosystems” with my colleagues from the UC Digital Arts Research Network ( UC DARnet ). Each campus had one lead person who was in charge of creating special interest panels I organized a panel of Nanotech and Culture. My interest stemmed from studying natural systems and form, more specifically the work of Buckminster Fuller . Through that exploration, I came to find out about the discovery of the third carbon molecule, the buckminsterfullerene, or buckyball. I read a fascinating article by Donald Ingber about certain patterns reappearing in natural systems and the tensegrity systems where this molecule was brought up again. Then I found out that the microscopes they use to study molecules are not optical but “feel” the surface and then translate the data to image. This, in addition to the idea of building ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’ is revolutionary and I found it very exciting.
Asking around UCLA about people who are doing interesting research in nanotech, I was pointed to a new faculty member who recently arrived from the IBM lab in Zurich , James Gimzewski. I sent him an email asking if he would join the discussion and he immediately responded with enthusiasm. He gave a very inspirational talk to the very few people present, because at that point many did not see how nanotech would connect to culture or even know what it is. We continued our dialogue and I started spending time in his lab and he in my art studio. It was not long before we wrote a manifesto and started working on creative projects. In 2002, we premiered zero@wavefunction, a projection installation that allows the audience to manipulate the buckyballs with their shadows. The following year, we led a large interdisciplinary team in creating a large-scale exhibition NANO, that included nine inter-connected installations at the Los Angeles County Museum.
Silvia Scaravaggi: Main themes in your exhibitions connect art, science and (nano)technology. They are also closely connected with human and biological aspects: the identity, the feedback. the network in a real and digital environment, the sensitive space. You studied a lot this kind of aspects. You create digital networking situation, and on the other side you make it real, setting up interactive exhibitions. Which kind of reactions you got from the audience in both these situations?
Victoria Vesna: My goal is to create an experience, and working in physical space is very different from the online space. The ideal situation for me is when these connect and inform each other in other words, when online audience influence the physical space and there is a relationship in the experiences. I do not see one more real than the other, they are both part of our reality and I have always tried to make that connection. Of course the interaction in the physical space has a completely different relationship to the space and time. Most people spend only a few minutes looking at artwork in museums, interactive to static. One has to take that into consideration when creating the work. On the other hand, online audiences can spend many minutes, hours of focused time online and, once again, one has to think about this when developing the work. In both cases, I am interested in developing layers of meaning, but access to these layers are very different. N0time is a piece that was very much about this the physical installation was very sculptural and networked and the online piece was a networked screensaver that you can still download and work with. http://notime.arts.ucla.edu/notime3/
Silvia Scaravaggi: Your research is also strictly connected with mind, health. I’m thinking about “Nanomandala”. Which kind of aims are you intended to reach?
Victoria Vesna: It is not unusual for an artist to be concerned with the body and the mind – this is our territory traditionally. The difference is the media we use, the time and context of our contemporary living state. Although I like to go deep into the subject before delving into a work, I am interested in creating an experience that is inspirational, aesthetic and leaves one wanting more, asking questions I take large amounts of data on a subject that I ingest and try to simplify it and at the same time layer it, so that one can approach it from any angle and take it on any level. Ultimately, I like to think of my work as poetry in motion. Or, maybe like being a lead singer in a band since most of my work is very collaborative.
Silvia Scaravaggi: You did a great work on knowledge people can reach through interactivity. They can discover more of their lives, bodies and minds. Is there an ethic behaviour on that? How far can you go on this aspects? How far can go art and science on that?
Victoria Vesna: There is definitely an aspect of ethics and I am approaching this subject very consciously these days. The ethical questions are less about the work itself, and more in relation to how one develops the work in collaboration with scientists. This is because the science world is very much linked to corporations, pharmaceutical and defense industries. The question I ask myself is where does an artist draw the line and how does this relationship impact the work that the audiences experience? In the end, it is critical to keep examining oneself and in particular the intent.
Silvia Scaravaggi: Has technology its own intelligence? Why interactivity is fun and functional? and why is it attractive?
Victoria Vesna: We are part of a larger intelligence and if we invest our minds, as we do, into technology, then it is what we declare it to be. Personally I think that technology is there to help us do our work and reconnect by allowing us to process large sets of data, create interactive projects and most of all realize that we are all part of a global network. This was there all along but technology is helping us see it through our use of it.
Silvia Scaravaggi: Talking about NANO, which seems to be the biggest project to make more accessible and understandable the world of science and nanotechnology, which feedback did you get from it?
Victoria Vesna: Perhaps the most amazing feedback we got from the museum is that they never had a wider spectrum of audience before. We had babies playing in the sand mandala, monks praying, intellectuals discussing the scientific visualization and teenagers throwing a rave party. This is the potential of an artist and scientist coming together, taking a risk and introducing the unknown as an experience, an art form, not a lecture.
Silvia Scaravaggi: About Italian reality, we had some interactive experiences giving enhancement to interactivity. You also had some italian experience, I think about MACRO conference “SHOW & DISPLAY”, and Studio Stefania Miscetti with Nanomandala. What you think about?
Victoria Vesna: I think Italy has the greatest legacy in art and science with Leonardo Da Vinci . Even the most important journal of art and science, formed in the 60’s by astro physicist Frank Malina is called Leonardo . The difference is that now we can be like Leonardo by collaborating with people who have scientific, mathematical and other skills and most of all, interact with our audiences who give us feedback in real time. Actually, I have even more experience since this summer I had on waterbowl in an exhibition at the Museum in Trento (MART) and then fluid bodies and nano mandala were part of the Art and Science exhibition in Benevento . The Italian audience is very intellectual and passionate and there is not much more an artist could ask for.
Silvia Scaravaggi: The birth of Art|Sci in 2005, could be an important example for italian instituion as a way to pursue and promote research. Why Art|Sci is important?
Victoria Vesna: The relationship between art and science has always been important but now that we use the same computing tools, we are able to work together, exchange ideas and create something in between that is about creative, innovative thinking. Scientific innovations change our reality and artists have always been agents of change and portraying reality in new ways, pointing to new visions, potential dangers It is also important for artists, who have training in communicating with the public to dialogue with scientists who can become too specialized and often disconnected from the public. Finally, with the new sciences emerging, nano and biotechnology for instance, even scientists need new ways of thinking and it has become really important to dialogue with artists who are always exploring consciousness. In the end, we live on one planet, and it is endangered by wars, greed and overpopulation. Environmental issues become critically important and everyone needs to get involved with whatever their expertise is. Water is the Oil of the next century and raising consciousness about it is really important, encouraging scientists to research ways to deal with the pollution is also important.
Silvia Scaravaggi: What are you featuring with the Art|sci for 2007? Do you plan to be in Italy ?
Victoria Vesna: We are continuing work on the communication system for the Katrina survivors (this is led by activist designer Henri Lucas ) and I am developing an event around Nikola Tesla. Also, I am teaching a class that will be open to the entire campus called Art , Science and Innovation. The Art Science center is modest it has two small, identical spaces one in the Art building and another in the new California Nanosystems Institute building. There will be a streaming camera on each side so that science will always be present in art and art in science Water bowls are going to Spain in March and Zurich in July, so I will be in Europe and of course will stop by Italy and say hello to my many friends there.