Cross-disciplinary projects explore arts’ effect on audience, create new forms

February 26, 2014

The University of Chicago’s Arts|Science Initiative has awarded five Graduate Collaboration Grants for projects ranging in topic from ‘fiction addiction’ to compositions modeled on melting glaciers, to the physiological assessment of emotion during artistic performance.

The Arts|Science Graduate Collaboration Grants are intended to encourage independent trans-disciplinary research between students in the arts and the sciences. Each group consists of two or more graduate students, with at least one in the arts and one in the sciences, who work together over the course of two quarters to investigate a subject from the perspectives offered by their disciplines.

The form of the project is open-ended, and in past years grantees have included a data-driven digital history of nostalgia, sound sculptures and video installations, and even a new instrument called the Chromochord (see sidebar video) which employs protein nanotechnology.

The Arts|Science Graduate Collaboration grants are funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories and the Institute of Molecular Engineering. The Arts|Science Initative connects artistic practice with scientific inquiry through student and faculty grants, events and exhibitions, and the cultivating dialogue to explore new modes of production and investigation around common themes. This UChicago Arts initiative was established in partnership with the Office of the Provost, with the support of the Institute for Molecular Engineering, Divisions of the Biological and Physical Sciences, the Humanities, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories.

Graduate Collaboration Grant 2013-14 projects and recipients:

Breaking Ice is an environment-inspired project that will culminate in a multimedia composition, incorporating live cello, interactive electronics, and video projection. The project will speak to the alarmingly increasing rate of melting and disintegrating glaciers by creating a laboratory-controlled model of the much larger-scaled phenomenon. Iddo Aharony (Department of Music), Ivo Peters (Department of Physics), and Qin Xu (Department of Physics) will examine ice as it is crushed and melted, and the scientific data and footage obtained will then be transformed into the core material and inspiration for the musical/visual piece. 

Shaping the Mind’s Stage examines how our experience shape the way we perceive the world. This project addresses this question through a live installation of a piece of chamber music performed by live vocalists. Turning an opera into an experiment and using audience as subjects, Tom Gijssels (Department of Psychology) and Debra Dado (Department of Visual Arts) will study responses to particular kinesthetic staging choices. This study will provide a unique opportunity to examine the human mind in the creative wild, and directly investigate how psychological findings can inform an audience’s perceptive experience of the artistic process.

Hearts Beating as One: Emotions and Physiology during Artistic Performance will investigate how people infer the emotions of others, with particular attention to the role that empathic accuracy has in creating a compelling artistic performance. In a set of experiments, the researchers will measure the physiology of actors and musicians while they simulate positive and negative emotions during performance. The emotional and physiological reactions of audience members will also be recorded and compared to those of the performers to assess whether good performances evoke real emotional experiences in performers and audiences.

The project team, the largest yet awarded the grant, is wide-ranging in discipline and includes Heather Harden and Carly Kontra (Department of Psychology), Elizabeth Necka (Department of Psychology), Patrick Fitzgibbon (Department of Music), Greg Poljacik and Sara Arnold (Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences) and Elizabeth Hopkins (Department of Music).

NeuroSonics: Rhythmic Stimulation of Epileptic Cell Cultures, a project of Andrew McManus (Department of Music), Tahra Eissa (Department of Neurobiology) and Albert Wilderman (Computational Neuroscience), will explore a feedback loop between epileptic neurological processes and music with the objective to assess how rhythms affect pathological neurological processes and neural plasticity, how the data from these processes might be translated back into musical sound, and what these musical results can tell us about the original processes. The results of the experiment will provide a potential solution for the ongoing challenge of “humanizing” computer-generated sounds as well as provide insight on how a developing, epileptic neural network interacts with rhythmic stimulation.

Fiction Addiction examines the conceptual overlap of the notion of “bingeing” on media intake and other modes of addiction. In this project, Bill Hutchison (Department of English) and Anya Bershad (Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience) will question how we—our neurobiological brains and literary minds—interact with “addictive” works of fiction. Through discussions with scholars from the humanities and sciences and by undertaking original research and investigations, this project, which will be presented as part-website and part-video-documentary, will help us better understand our compulsive relationship with fictional worlds.