Category Archives: art & science

Brutalism in Berkeley

One silver lining of the shelter-in-place is that you get to go out with no other goal than going out, and you discover new things about your city. I was always intrigued by the Brutalist architecture in the Bay Area – the first time I encountered it was at the Berkeley Art Museum during the Uncharted Festival in 2013. This kind of architecture, promoted by Mario Ciampi in the Bay Area, is often maligned, and while I can’t say I like, I definitely recognize its esthetic impact.
The name brutalism comes not from the word “brute” (though it could!), but from the French word “brut,” where it signifies “raw” as in raw concrete. Here are a few buildings I stumbled upon who may qualify for the category. Enjoy!

Woo Hon Fai Hall, in Berkeley, CA (former Berkeley Art Museum, BAMPFA)

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Know your Burning Man art

The world is burning with fear, and the best thing we can do is the burn the fear with arts – and that’s the central appeal of Burning Man.

Burning Man is a ten-day long arts festival in the desert, in Black Rock City, NV (a 4 hours drive from San Fransisco) and usually held at the end of August, where people come for the peculiar experience, littered with real life arts. This event is among the only in the world where people do art for the sake of art, without galleries or commissioning needed, thanks to its sheer scale and captive audience (70,000 people over a week.) There are many groups of artists preparing arts year long, in the hope to touch the heart of others; some even get commissioned and get to build real big stuff. Some of them may be ephemeral, but their legacy lives on.

Associated acts

The influence of Burning man runs deep, especially in the Bay Area. For example, the lights blinking on the Bay Bridge (Bay lights) where partly an offshoot of a Burning Man project by Leo Villareal, whereas the “Day For Night” built on Jim Campbell’s experience. The latter recently had an exhibition at the Hosfelt gallery in San Francisco which was… illuminating.

The sculptor Marco Cochrane is also famous for the Bliss series, his large sculptures of iron mesh of dancing characters, found on Treasure Island and at festival in California.

A piece for No Spectator, at The Oakland Museum of California (2020) – HYBYCOZO, Trocto, 2014

There was recently a very tiny retrospective of Burning Man arts at the Oakland Museum of California, No Spectator: The Art of Burning Man. It didn’t render the scale of the event, but it allowed people to get a sense of what’s happening there, and tell the history of the event. Continue reading

I trawl the terahertz

Last year I’ve discovered Paddy McAloon’s re-edition of “I Trawl the Megahertz” (published as Prefab Sprout) in happenstance. I was listening to Spotify, and this beautiful instrumental piece showed up, with hesitating strings and a cold voice, which was not too dissimilar to Woodkid’s On Then and Now which I had been drawn to earlier in the season.

This gradually became my favorite album of the year (other great songs are in there, such as I’m 49.) Now that the virus is crawling and the internet functions at the Terahertz speeds, we’ve gone full circle.

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Light sources around the world

Over the last two years, I had a chance to visit a few synchrotron around the world!

Here’s my fav list:

Now I need to visit:

  •  Diamond Light Source (near Oxford, UK),
  • MaxIV (Lund, Sweden) and the
  • European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (Grenoble, France)


SOLEIL synchrotron (near Paris, France)

Swiss Light Source (Paul Scherrer Institute, near Zurich)

Taiwan Photon Source (Hsinchu, Taiwan)

Elettra sincotrone (Trieste, Italy) – with Luca Gregoratti

Advanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory (near Chicago, IL) – with Gautam Gunjala (UC Berkeley)

Advanced Light Source Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (near San Francisco, CA) – with Claudi Mazzoli (from NSLS-II, Brookhaven)

Good optics

Here are collected pictures from the vendor exhibition at the SPIE Optics+Photonics 2019 conference in San Diego, CA.
I always find these exhibitions strangely fascinating, and I wanted to capture why. Enjoy!

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Somehow my art piece has been accepted! A delightful play on the wavelike behavior of light, and the particle0like behavior of silicon atoms, in a tribute to Malevich. Instant Classic!

Incoherent on coherent

You can now see it at the Vision+Light exhibition on Berkeley Campus, from February 20th to March 14th, 2019

Art & Science (X) – Science pictures

Vision, and the means to capture it – photography – plays a momentous role in science.
I was much impressed by a remark of Aldous Huxley, that we owe our civilization largely to the fact that vision is an objective sense. An animal with an olfactory sense or with hearing, however well developed, could never have created science. A smell is either good or bad, and even hearing is never entirely neutral; music can convey emotions with an immediateness of which the sober visual arts are inca pable. No wonder that the very word “objective” has been appropriated by optics.
Dennis Gabor – Light and Information
It is therefore fitting to take a look at all the great pictures that have been recorded by all means.
Here is a selection of scientific picture competitions and galleries you might want to have a look at:
I found that The Atlantic and The Guardian usually have beautiful galleries.Astronomy is an obvious domain where picture are breathtaking, but more so is space imaging.
Here are some amazing pictures from the past few years:

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Art & Science (XI) – Resources in the Bay Area

Here’s a short list of Art & Science resources in the Bay Area.
It is not comprehensive, and I will augment it as I go!

In San Francisco

Grey Area (2665 Mission Street) is a space dedicated to art and technology (lots of VR and visual art.) The Exploratorium (Pier 15) has a lot of very neat experiments that do have an artistic component to them, while the  Cal Academy of Science (Golden Gate Park) sometimes run events based on art and technology.
For 2018-2019, the French Embassy is assembling a series of events around arts and science called After Tomorrow. There’s been events at the Cal Academy of Arts and Gray Area, but oftentimes they’re here to promote a French artist, rather than giving a systematic treatment of art and science.
There’s also Leonardo/ISAST (International Society for Art, Science and Technology), which is based in the Bay Area and organizes event, such as the LASER talks, The Convening (for their 50th birthday.)

At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

There is a large source of content at Berkeley Lab, especially given it’s the host of national user facilities:
the Advanced Light Source (x-ray imaging), the Molecular Foundry (electron microscopy), NERSC (computer simulations) and Joint Genome Institute (biology), each with over 1000 users per year from all over the world, and a rich history (including 12 Nobel Prize laureates). Over the past year I’ve tried to consolidate the material available. Here is some things you can find online:
I’ve been collecting data (art-at-lbl-gov goes straight to my mailbox,) and I have a bunch of scientific friends who are themselves artist, such as Sinead Griffin. I even ventured into this myself; the following picture was made by superimposing partially coherent light on atomic scale variations of a substrate seen with an x-ray microscope (a tribute to “Suprematist Composition: White on White” by Vladimir Malevich):

Incoherent on Coherent (Antoine Wojdyla, 2015)

I believe there are many cool things in tandem with BAM/PFA or SFMOMA, or even CalPerf: the music venue should try to get closer to what people are doing in the EECS department — and I believe the University of Michigan should do the same with UMS.
I’m not very familiar with what happens at UC Berkeley or Stanford in that field, apart from are a few independent events, such as this one. I would love to invite David Stork, Edward Tufte and others, and I’m sure that there are many ways to bring in other national labs, Bell Labs (Bell Labs researchers basically fled to national labs when things went down, but there seems to be a revival nowadays.)
And there’s of course some art on novel unusual media (silicon wafers or EUV photomasks) that could be used!

Art and science (IX) – Neural networks

This is a continuation of a series of blog posts, written mostly in French, about arts and science

In the past few years, we’ve seen the emergence of Deep Neural Networks (DNN), and the latest developments are Generative Adverserial Networks (GAN), where the goal is to pit two neural networks against each other so that they find the best way to generate an object from a label or a simple drawing, or mimick the style of an artist.

The first ripple in the vast ocean of possibility was Deep Dream, though it wasn’t technically a GAN:

Now, things have evolved even more, and you can not only generate trippy videos, but also use neural network to emulate the style of an artist and generate from scratch content that is indeed appealing!

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Self-reference is cornerstone in Hofstadter’s Godel-Escher-Bach, a must read book for anyone interested in logic (and we shall rely logic in these days to stay sane.)

Here’s a bunch of examples of self-reference that I found interesting, curated just for you!

Barber’s paradox:

The barber is the “one who shaves all those, and those only, who do not shave themselves.” The question is, does the barber shave himself?

Self-referential figure (via xkcd):

Tupper’s formula that prints itself on a screen (via Brett Richardson) Continue reading