Anna Nguyen/New University

Media artist Victoria Vesna and nanoscientist James Gimzewski bring their piece of artwork, “Morphonano,” to the Beall Center for Art and Technology at UC Irvine organized by artistic director David Familian.


A marriage between the worlds of science and art, “Morphonano” uses visual art as a medium to display the wonders of nanoscience to the public. This collaborative work allows the scientist and the artist to live together and create a highly interactive zone that encourages the participant to use their sense of hearing, sight and touch. As it says on the flyer, “[it creates] an intersection of space, time and embodiment by employing a very subtle and responsive energetic exchange.”


Contrasting Irvine’s bright and sunny weather, the Beall Center is dark and cool, with neon blue lights pulsating at a steady beat. The hustle and bustle of university life is left at the doorstep, and I enter the serene and meditative world of Morphonano and all its creation.


After adjusting to the darkness, I was hit by the first major artwork called “Zero@wavefunction (zerowave) 2003.”  I saw buckyballs moving around on a wall-length projector. Buckyballs, or buckminsterfullerene, are molecules made entirely of carbon in the shape of spheres, and are very important for nanoscience research as part of their technological applications. As I passed by, I casted a larger-than-life shadow that activated the buckyballs.


The molecules then responded to any movement my shadow made, from kicking to pushing and compressing to bouncing. I soon realized that the slower I was, the better the molecules responded to my influence. It was a very educational and entertaining way of visualizing and experiencing firsthand how an actual nanoscientist works in manipulating an individual molecule.


The next major artwork and my favorite was “Blue Morph (vibrations of change) 2007.”  With the advancement of nanotechnology, it has become possible for scientists to visualize and recreate the morphological changes that take place in a chrysalis. For this interactive installation, I had to follow a ritual of removing my shoes and wearing protective headgear before sitting on a platform. After sitting down, I had to attach a white tube to my head, which was filled with nano-photonics tubes that started a montage of videos on the opposite wall. The stiller I was, the clearer the videos became.


These videos were actual footage of the morphological change that takes place inside a cocoon when a caterpillar evolves into a butterfly. Rich, sonic heartbeats and soft buzzing accompanied with sudden stillness and silence added another dimension to the experience. No matter how much I try to put in words, you have to experience “Blue Morph” with your own ears and eyes to be blown away by the raw beauty of nature.


Despite being a very intimidating artwork, it is surrounded by three cocoons hanging from the ceiling and has a huge tube at the center; it was a much-needed calming and peaceful experience to end a hectic and stressful week. It comes as no surprise that “Blue Morph” is one of the highlights of “Morphonano” and has already been viewed in Poland, Norway, Brazil and Italy.


The final major artwork displayed was called “Nanomandala (exploring a single grain of sand) 2003.”  Through this piece, the artist successfully unites the Eastern Buddhist philosophies with Western technologies. “Nanomandala” is a disk that is 8 feet in diameter and consists of white sand. The viewer can touch and feel the sand, while real images and stills of a mandala (circle) are being projected on it.


“Nanomandala” is inspired by the Tibetan monks who patiently and laboriously use single multi-colored grains of sand to create a mandala as an offering to the universe and destiny. The process is reminiscent of nanoscientists working patiently with microscopic atoms to find answers to their own questions. By using these fundamental bricks of sands, both cultures come to realize that “patience will allow experiencing the whole.” This shared experience of patience and calmness is the common ground that brings them closer to appreciating each other. This installation is accompanied by Buddhist chants and sounds that make the artwork more authentic and realistic.


“Morphonano” is a rich, sonic and visual experience that takes the viewer into another dimension of silence and tranquility where the interaction between the artwork and the viewer is of utmost importance. It goes to show that the schools of science and art are not two separate disciplines of studies that have to be kept apart, but can be intertwined in order to deeply understand the secrets of the universe. I felt rejuvenated after visiting “Morphonano: Works by Victoria Vesna with James Gimzewski,” and highly encourage everyone to pay a visit before it closes on May 6.