The Arts, Science + Culture Initiative partnered with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time during the 2014–15 Graduate Collaboration Grant cycle to support five projects spanning Astrophysics and Fiber & Material Studies; Music, Pyschology and Neuroscience; Physics and Fiber & Material Studies; Art History and Ecology & Evolution; and Anthropology and Art & Technology. 

The Fabric of the Universe

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

The Fabric of the Universe is an investigation into a novel way of visualizing the structure of the universe: using 3-dimensional textiles. Isaac Facio (MFA candidate, Fiber & Material Studies, SAIC) and Benedikt Diemer (Ph.D candidate, Astronomy & Astrophysics, UChicago) will transform the shapes formed by the dark matter in large computer simulations into fabric using digital textile manufacturing technologies. The properties of the fabric, such as its opacity, will represent the properties of dark matter structures, such as their density. Ultimately, the textile will take shape in a large-scale sculpture of the dark matter filaments and nodes in the universe, known as the "cosmic web."

Faculty Advisors: Andrey Kravtsov (Astronomy & Astrophysics, UChicago); Helen Maria Nugent (Designed Objects (AIADO), SAIC) 

Syntax & Songbirds

At least since the middle ages, musicians have taken inspiration from birdsong. In this project, we will make music informed and constrained by the biological and cognitive systems supporting birdsong. In their collaboration Syntax & SongbirdsGeoff Brookshire (Ph.D candidate, Psychology, UChicago), Kyler Brown (Ph.D candidate, Computational Neuroscience, UChicago) and Marcelle Pierson (Ph.D candidate, Music History and Theory, UChicago) will analyze both the syntax and biophysics of the songs of two finch species, and interpret features of wild-type birdsong through synthesized sound and close imitation by an instrument. The scientific foundation of this project will enable us to explore the boundary between the carefully framed, aestheticized listening experience of the concert hall, and the unframed, natural production of birdsong.

Faculty Advisors: Daniel Casasanto (Psychology, UChicago); Anthony Cheung (Music, UChicago); Sarah London (Psychology, UChicago); Daniel Margoliash (Organismal Biology & Anatomy, UChicago), 

Physical -> | <- Digital 

Physical -> | <- Digital applies the physical notion of conserved quantities to transformations between physical and digital representations of basic, yet impactful, interactions. Together, Jonathan Rockford (MFA candidate, Fiber & Material Studies, SAIC) and Martin Scheeler (Ph.D candidate, Physics, UChicago) will examine their own relationship by reflexively transforming physical artifacts of their interactions, collapsing their intensity and duration into digitally generated representations. Experimenting with a wide range of media and processes (from crocheting, to 3D printing, to computer sensing), this project explores the qualities and complexities of cross-disciplinary collaboration by examining what is lost and what remains as we transition between the physical and digital realms.  

Faculty Advisors: William Irvine (Physics, UChicago); Andrew Yang (Interdisciplinary Studio Art, SAIC)

The Phoenix Index: A New Method in Environmental History 

Over several months, Shane DuBay (Ph.D candidate, Evolutionary Biology, UChicago) and Carl Fuldner (Ph.D candidate, Art History, UChicago) have photographed complete sets of select bird species in the Field Museum’s extensive study collections, which include specimens spread over the last 130 years. Based on these photographs, they’ve devised a novel means of tracking industrial pollution in the Great Lakes region, which involves analyzing luminance data from within the images to gauge the relative amount of soot covering each bird. The result is a dynamic visual archive that leverages photography to explore the value of time-series for contemporary scientific inquiry. Their analysis provides insights that extend back decades before coordinated systems for measuring air quality, while also restoring the severed link between natural history specimens and the environments from which they were gathered. As the rate of planetary change accelerates, The Phoenix Index demonstrates how time-series provide an indispensable window onto life in the Anthropocene. [ASCI Profile Feature on Shane & Carl] [The Phoenix Index in the news]

Faculty Advisors: John Bates (Committee on Evolutionary Biology, UChicago); Joel M. Snyder (Art History, UChicago) 

The Adjustments

What does it mean for one's milieu to become a problem? In The Adjustments Damien Bright (Ph.D student, Anthropology, UChicago), Cameron Hu (Ph.D student Anthropology, UChicago) and Tobias Zehntner (MFA candidate, Art and Technology, SAIC) explore the composition of experience within an uncertain environment. Through a series of installations this project stages a drama of collective embodiment within an environment becoming more and more other-worldly, estranged, and intolerable. A choreography of lights, videos, text displays and pneumatic devices abstracts and intensifies the psycho-social dynamics emergent in times of late capitalism, climate change, resource exhaustion, and toxic ecology. 

Faculty Advisors: Christopher Baker (Art & Technology, SAIC); Joseph Masco (Anthropology, UChicago);


Julie Marie Lemon, Program Director and Curator



"The Fabric of the Universe"; Benedikt Diemer (UChicago) and Isaac Facio (SAIC)
"Syntax & Songbirds"; Geoff Brookshire (UChicago), Kyler Brown (UChicago), and Marcelle Pierson (UChicago)
"Physical -> | <- Digital"; Jonathan Rockford (SAIC) and Martin Scheeler (UChicago)
"The Phoenix Index"; Shane DuBay (UChicago) and Carl Fuldner (UChicago)
"The Adjustments"; Damien Bright (UChicago), Cameron Hu (Uchicago) and Tobias Zehntner (SAIC)