Immersive Atoms ART x TECH Spring Exhibition was a hidden gem on campus this weekend, but it was worth a look. The art installment full of blinking lights and interactive computer programs sat tucked away on the third floor of the Art-Sociology building.
On Thursday, the exhibit's opening night, the classroom-turned-gallery was full of excited spectators staring at the stack of vintage TVs playing GIFs on loop, clicking away at interactive processing projects or trying to place light-up glasses on their noses.
Bryce Peterson, a senior mechanical engineering major, created the exhibit to foster community between the art and STEM fields on campus. He said artistic technology is the future of art.
"Art shouldn't be the decoration on top of tech: Tech can be the body of art, and you can use new technology to create this magic," Peterson said. "There's an infinite sort of plane out there, so many other mediums are almost exhausted, but there's so many ways we can take all of this technology and put it to our use and make crazy stuff."
Peterson made a "breathing moss" piece for the exhibit. The seemingly normal moss gently rose and fell, giving the illusion of an inhale and exhale. Spectators were mesmerized by the piece and continually praised Peterson for the work.
"I like robotics a lot, my discipline is robotics, and I think people can project humanness onto so many different forms," Peterson said. "We have all these stereotypes about the forms and the visual measure of 'What is a robot?,' but people project emotion onto anything, like moss."
Senior studio art major Elise Nichols, who helped organize the exhibition, said it was "total mayhem five minutes before, but it all comes together [beautifully]."
Senior Ben Graney Green created a typewriter that physically printed responses to online mentions of its Twitter handle. People were able to send questions or statements to @IATypewriter and watch the machine respond in real-time.
Graney Green, an aerospace engineering major, said the piece was created using ELIZA, one of the original chat bots from the 1960s. He found a way to hook his laptop up to the $5 IBM typewriter he obtained from Terrapin Trader and created the "crazy juxtaposition" of modern communication with 50-year-old technology.
"You could look up @IATypewriter online and see all of the things people tweeted at it, but the only full conversation is in the physical world, here on this one piece of paper," said Graney Green.
Junior mechanical engineering major Ariana Marcelo compared the installation to Artechouse in Washington, D.C., as did Matthew Fan, a sophomore computer science and mechanical engineering major. Students on the arts side of campus were excited to see a wider audience viewing their work.
"As art students, we don't really see much people coming in to see and interact with our artwork. But here, I feel like it inspires art students — or any type of student who isn't in the art major — to feel like, 'Oh I could create something' either from technology, or traditional art or arts and crafts," said Lisa Thach, a junior art education major.
The exhibit also showed the lighthearted side of technology. Graney Green said a lot of his technology classes are focused on economy and efficiency, which is "kind of worrying at times."
"That's one of the powerful things about [intersecting art and tech], because one, you can create some really cool stuff, but two, it's also demonstrating the power of technology in a way that's not showboat-y and incredibly business-oriented — it's a little bit more loose and lax," he said. "When you create things that are really tech-heavy, you don't have to be super uptight about it all the time."
Peterson said part of the inspiration for Immersive Atoms was the high intensity of STEM fields.
"So many people talk about how soul-crushing their technical majors are and how they hate engineering, and it's like, engineering is just a tool to create things, and if you're not inspired about what you're creating, then of course you're going to hate it," Peterson said. "It's hard and it takes forever and everything breaks — it's a pain in the ass to make anything."
Peterson said hearing others say they want to be involved in Immersive Atoms is more gratifying than getting compliments on his art. Nichols said Peterson is always "pushing for people to make that jump towards being more creative, being an artist."
"I think that's what this show does — it makes people who aren't [creative] by name or trade [create art]," Nichols said. "Maybe their major isn't 'creative computer science major,' but … it just pushes things to the next level and you don't really get that in the classes."
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly said a statement from Nichols was referring to herself. The statement was referring to Peterson. This article has been updated.