The Arts, Science + Culture Initiative and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) are pleased to announce the 2016–17 Graduate Collaboration Grant recipients. The Arts, Science + Culture Initiative Graduate Collaboration Grants encourage independent trans-disciplinary research between students in the arts and the sciences. Each group will work together over the course of an academic year to investigate a series of critical questions from the perspectives offered by their respective disciplines.


Dissecting Enchantment: Between Gods and Ghosts

When does the sacred—often grounded in the religious structures of society—become uncanny? When does a god become a ghost? And moreover, at what point does a ritual take on the mantle of the supernatural? Our project investigates at what point a spiritual experience becomes a haunted one, and when it does so by interrogating the fluid, permeable border between these respective notions. We intend to explore the ways by which the sacred and the haunted are entangled through the convergence of approaches found in anthropology and visual art. Both disciplines have been deeply concerned with these issues but have often rendered them independent of one another. Considering the affects, perceptions, and experiences the sacred and the haunted conjure, our artistic venture is also an exploration of phenomenology and the sensuous. Hilary Leathem (PhD student, Anthropology, UChicago), Adrienne Elyse Meyers (MFA candidate, Visual Arts, UChicago), and Agnes Mondragón Celis-Ochoa (PhD student, Anthropology, UChicago) will utilize sound, video, and material culture in an attempt to evoke and open up interpretations of the uncanny. In the end, this collaboration replicates the strangeness of the sacred, the sublime, and the haunted.

Faculty advisors: Julie Chu (Associate Professor, Anthropology, UChicago); Catherine Sullivan (Associate Professor, Department of Visual Arts, UChicago)


The View from Nowhere: Suprahuman Vision through Satellite Imagery and Deep Neural Networks

Satellite images abstract the familiar world into an accumulation of shapes and colors. Roads become lines, blocks become rectangles, cities become grids. The instrumentalization of the bird’s-eye view has developed from the Corona reconnaissance programs of the 1960s to the drone flights of today. In every instance, the production of the image presumes the presence of an adversary. Consequently, the possibilities for misidentification are magnified beyond imperfect information or an imperfect interpreter. In the presence of an adversarial strategy, The View from Nowhere, considers suprahuman vision both “above” (the bird’s-eye view) and “beyond” (the non-sight of computer vision) the perspective of the human. Producing a series of unidentifiable images, Will Wiebe (MFA candidate, Photography, SAIC) and John Santerre (PhD candidate, Computer Science, UChicago) explore the misclassification of satellite imagery and, in particular, the divergence of human and computer vision using industry-standard deep neural networks. 

Faculty advisors: Rick Stevens (Professor, Computer Science, UChicago; Associate Laboratory Director, Argonne National Laboratory); Judd Morrissey (Assistant Professor, Art & Technology, SAIC)

Funded by the Graduate Division, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).


Imagining with Runoff

Despite its negative connotations, urban runoff could be viewed as a lively force that moves through cities tracking social and material activity. A collector of all: it does not discriminate what it picks up, it carries itself across neighborhoods and even absorbs whatever is present in the city air. In Imagining with Runoff, this collaboration will suspend negative understandings of runoff water and examine it instead through the lens of integration, possibility and transformation. Together Jelani Hannah (PhD candidate, Physics, UChicago) and Zoe Greenham (MFA candidate, Sculpture, SAIC) will collect, examine and work with runoff water. This collaboration will seek potentiality, both artistic and scientific, in this active urban water presence.

Faculty advisors: Heinrich Jaeger (William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Professor of Physics, UChicago); Sara Black (Assistant Professor, Sculpture, SAIC)

Funded by the Graduate Division, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).


Randomness and Mind Games

Our brains are great at recognizing patterns and trends, but sometimes we just can’t make sense of what we see. Whether complex inner workings or pure randomness are behind it, this unpredictability can arouse a variety of responses in us, from detached boredom to maddening frustration to wonderful intrigue. Xinyi Zhu (MFA candidate, Film, Video, New Media and Animation, SAIC) and Kieran Murphy (PhD candidate, Physics, UChicago) intend to create an immersive and interactive environment which initially evokes a question—what is the effect of randomness and unpredictability on our perception?—and then strives to answer it. Through virtual reality experiences and (physical reality) games, this project aims to shed light on how humans deal with the unknown.

Faculty advisors: Heinrich Jaeger (William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Professor of Physics, UChicago); Kerry Richardson (Adjunct Associate Professor, Film, Video, New Media and Animation Contemporary Practices, SAIC)

Funded by the Graduate Division, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).


Transformative Poetry: Applications in Alzheimer’s Disease

This project explores the link in the cognitive deficit awareness that can be measured between Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers through engagement in creating poetry together. While numerous studies have worked to quantify the transformative power of engagement in art on Alzheimer’s patients—most frequently in terms of improved social behavior and enriched quality of life—few studies have specifically gauged the cognitive impact of the mnemonic structures of formal verse on cognitive awareness in patients. Nor have studies delved deeply into the cognitive relationship and accuracy of the metacognitive calibration (awareness of patients’ cognitive limitations) between patients and their caregivers, which may be more precisely valuated through the process of creating verse together. By gathering interviews with the patients, impressions of the study process, and the poetry created together with participants during the session into a verse play composed by Nigel O’Hearn (MA student, Humanities, UChicago)—to be offered in workshop presentation at the project’s end—Tiara Starks (MA student, Psychology, UChicago) and O'Hearn will push the boundaries of understanding the expressive limitations of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, while examining some of the social and scientific difficulties of engaging with the affected population.

Faculty advisors: David A. Gallo (Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, UChicago); John Wilkinson (Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, UChicago)


Unfolding Dimensionality

What is dimension? How do scientists and artists construct and perceive dimensionality and apply it to their works? Yukun Zeng (PhD student, Anthropology, UChicago), Yu Ji (PhD student, Psychology, UChicago), and Siamack Hajimohammad (MA student, Visual and Critical Studies, SAIC) unfold dimensionality by tracing cases from the historical development of classical physics and through investigations into relevant contemporary examples in modern natural and social sciences, and combining and presenting the studies as a photographic album. Our goal is to create opportunities to rethink and re-experience dimensionality from multiple, alternative, and perhaps new perspectives.

Faculty advisors: Susan Gal (Mae & Sidney G. Metzl Distinguished Service Professor Departments of Anthropology, Linguistics, and Humanities Collegiate Division, U Chicago); Leslie Kay (Professor of Psychology, UChicago); Shawn Michelle Smith (Professor, Visual and Critical Studies, SAIC)



net(work) is a collaboration between music and neurobiology that will investigate the many ways in which art and science inform each other. The net(work) team includes Pierce Gradone (PhD candidate, Music Composition, UChicago), and Dana Simmons (PhD candidate, Neurobiology, UChicago). Pierce’s music is fascinated by the small, mechanical impulses that form the foundation of modern music-making. Dana’s neurobiology research focuses on the ways networks of neurons communicate with each other in the autistic cerebellum. Together, the net(work) team will create a musical composition for violin, cello, piano, live electronics, and live video that represents and interprets the many shapes of electrical currents that symbolize communication between neurons. The soundworld of the piece will consist of field recordings from the laboratory, while the musicians will provide an acoustic counterpoint as the musical structure of the piece will be constructed in real time through the composing of smaller, modular movements whose shapes are directly representative of neural pulses. The music will transform in response to these stimuli, representing the way a neural network also responds. The result is a musical ecosystem in which a musical neural network is formed throughout the duration of the 15-minute performance.  

Faculty advisors: Sam Pluta (Assistant Professor of Composition, Music Department; Director, Computer Music Studio, UChicago); Christian Hansel (Professor, Neurobiology, UChicago)


Julie Marie Lemon, Program Director and Curator


Dissecting Enchantment
The View from Nowhere
Imagining with Runoff
Randomness and Mindgames
Transformative Poetry
Unfolding Dimensionality

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