The 2020–21 ASCI Graduate Collaboration Grants were awarded to four outstanding teams of UChicago graduate students. ASCI's affiliation with the School of the Art Institute may resume for the 2021–22 academic year.
Dante in the Lab
Dante in the Lab is an exploration of the influence of contemporary physics and medieval literature on each other. The team will work toward the recreation of the literary imagery of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the laboratory. Can Dante’s imagery be framed in terms of soft materials and their transitions? What is the relationship between his experimental knowledge conveyed through figures of speech (like similes and metaphors), and the modern procedural knowledge of testing and communicating results? Beatrice Fazio (PhD candidate, RLL, Italian Studies) and Tanvi Gandhi (PhD candidate, Physics) will focus on the physical properties of soft or granular materials (such as sand, ash, ice particles) that appear in the Comedy. They will investigate the relationship between Dante’s understanding of matter (real or metaphorical) and contemporary insights from the understanding of soft condensed matter. The project will culminate in a short documentary that demonstrates our experiments and will relate these experiments to passages in Dante’s work enacted by professional actors, show interviews with experts, and discuss how insights gained in the lab may be extrapolated to the literary world and vice versa.
Faculty advisors: Justin Steinberg (Professor, Italian) and Heinrich Jaeger (Professor, Physics/James Franck Institute).
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hill
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hill is an original puppet show that takes place after an unspecified mass revolution where capitalism is overturned. Marissa Fenley (PhD candidate, English & TAPS) and Blair Bainbridge (PhD candidate, Anthropology & Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science) follow six housewives—each represented by a 14” rod puppet—who live on Beverly Hill, the only hill left in the one-time playground of the rich and famous, Beverly Hills. Beverly Hill is, to the housewives, a safe haven from the revolutionaries who brought about the end of capitalism and their own personal apocalypse. As we follow the housewives, we learn about how they have managed to construct modes of capital accumulation among themselves (namely a canned bean economy) and a patriarchal hierarchy they can wield in order to re-subject themselves and each other (they all share one husband to preserve the symbolic order of wifeliness without the inconvenience of having to maintain a marriage.) Thus, the series has two dramaturgical registers: on the one hand, it is a satire of the conventions and characters of The Real Housewives franchise. However, it is also an anthropological look at how specific dynamics of capitalism infect the construction of upper-class female identity.
Faculty advisors: David Levin (Professor, Cinema and Media Studies, Germanic Studies, TAPS) and Michael Rossi (Associate Professor, History of Medicine, the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge)
Robot Mediation of Performer-Spectator Dynamics
With the encroachment of technology as mediators in our performative spaces, from Alexa at home to Spotify’s Playlist recommendations, this project investigates how robots can mediate relationships among performers, among spectators, and between performers and spectators. Robot Mediation of Performer-Spectator Dynamics builds on existing research in Human-Robot Interaction, which has shown that the actions of social robots in groups that include humans have ripple effects on the interpersonal dynamics among humans themselves. Baldwin Giang (PhD student, Music) and Valerie Zhao (PhD student, Computer Science) will tackle this question by composing a work for instrumentalists, social robots, and interactive audience members from whom robots collect input that both provides feedback to the performers and also shapes the improvisational dynamics and formal properties of the work in real-time. Through multiple virtual and (pending COVID restrictions) in-person performances, we will conduct a human subject study to collect qualitative and quantitative data about the interaction between the performers, audience, and the robot mediator.
Faculty advisors: Sam Pluta (Assistant Professor, Music), Sarah Sebo (Assistant Professor, Computer Science), and Blase Ur (Neubauer Family Assistant Professor, Computer Science).
Humans are visual creatures, and we often build our reality around what we can see. However, what we consider to be an objective reality is often only a subjective interpretation, as variations in our individual brain activity can skew our visual perceptions in unpredictable ways. Just as two people gazing at the sky may not see the same shade of blue due to differences in their biologies, two people looking at the same work of art can have completely different responses to the materials in front of them. Jen Ding (PhD candidate, Neurobiology) and Anton Auth (MFA candidate, Visual Arts) explore the subjectivity implicit in areas that are historically considered objective like sensory processing, taxonomical histories of museum collections, and the practice of conducting research. This collaboration—compiled into a book of artworks, scientific inquiries, descriptive figures, correspondences, disputes, and moments of synchronicity—investigates the differences in practice and approach between scientist and artist and challenges the reader’s understanding of how seemingly objective realities are constructed via subjective phenomena and structures of power.
Faculty Advisors: Stephanie Palmer (Associate Professor, Organismal Biology and Anatomy) and Geof Oppenheimer (Professor, Visual Arts).