Turning Political Tweets Into Art

younguntitleimage_0In the year leading up to the 2016 election, assistant professor of design Jiayi Young began collecting Twitter data that she turned in to an artwork she describes as “social media as cyborg.”

“I wanted to come up with ways to visualize the data beyond dots and lines on screens — something non-conventional that stuck with the viewer and bridges big data with human cognition,” she said. “I could feel very viscerally in my body what was happening and wanted to translate it into a physical manifestation. There was a sense of urgency I felt — like the urgency of a medical emergency.”

The goal is to accurately represent 6.5 million Twitter user activities and 620,000 election related tweets and identify the most influential social media robots and reveal their powerful influence on a global scale.

System overload

The most recent iteration of the project “What Does the Bot Say to the Human?” was made of IV bags filled with a glowing green solution, a tangle of 300 tiny wires with lights at each end and 60 speakers.

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Exhibition redraws boundries

UC Davis will break down the walls of the exhibition box with “from this point forward” opening May 27. The multidisciplinary exhibition by 28 graduate students will include physical works by students in art, design and theatre, a sound installation, presentations by art history and history students, performances of works by composers and readings by creative writers.It will be the first student show at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art which opened in November.

“UC Davis has a great tradition of coming together as a creative community to engage ideas and challenges,” said Rachel Teagle, founding director of the museum. “We saw this first student show as an opportunity to celebrate the makers, scholars and researchers across the arts and humanities who are part of that community, and to make their work accessible to all of our visitors. The creative and scholarly works that make up ‘from this point forward’ will showcase each discipline and each student, and will, in the shared space of the museum, enter dialogue with the work of other disciplines and other students.” Continue reading

Two operas, much more music on the way


Rohde at center during “Death with Interruptions”

UC Davis Professor of Music Kurt Rohde has been busy exploring new territory in recent years – the voice. “I like the voice, be it sung, spoken, snoring or muttering,” said the composer, who has been at UC Davis for 11 years.

The human voice and words take center stage in several upcoming performances of Rohde’s music, including his newest piece, “Never was a knight …” and his 2015 opera “Death With Interruptions.” San Francisco’s Left Coast Chamber Ensemble will stage both productions on Nov. 4 and 5 in San Francisco. Rohde is a founder of Left Coast, which is calling the production the biggest – in terms of numbers of musicians, sets and cost — in its 25-year history.

The Department of Music will also present “Death With Interruptions” in the Ann E. Pitzer Center on Nov. 11. Another of Rohde’s works, a collaboration with poet Diane Seuss, will premiere at UC Davis in the spring.

“I want to use the voice not just as a means to have another body up there, doing its thing by singing, but to somehow become the words being sung or vice versa,” he said. “The action becomes the sound, a type of embodiment that is not mannered or affected, but natural and unpretentious.” Continue reading

PL!NK – artful play

Two UC Davis design professors have been busy transforming galleries at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum into a combination art installation and playground that stimulates learning called “PL!NK.”

The installation is made up of 100 colorful and mirrored tetrahedron clusters, with embedded cameras, lights and recording devices for real time interactivity. It encourages early childhood development through color and pattern; solitary, parallel and cooperative play; and spatial learning.

The work that sprawls across the floor and climbs the walls is the creation of professors Glenda Drew and Jiayi Young. Continue reading

An Awesome Musical Life

awesomeDavid Möschler (M.A., music, ’10) has created a successful if slightly unorthodox music career largely based on figuring out how he could have the musical life he wanted.

Since earning his degree, Möschler has conducted the San Francisco Civic Symphony and been music director of “The Simpson’s”-inspired play Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in Cape Cod. A few years ago, he also started an unusual musical ensemble called the Awesöme Orchestra. Continue reading

Alumni Artist Links Community to New Museum

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October 2016  – Working in her Oakland studio, Lisa Rybovich Crallé was surrounded by teetering stacks of white rings looking like oversize life preservers. The rings, constructed of fabric- covered polyethylene foam, spilled into the courtyard of the former Halloween mask and hat factory turned art studios.

These rings, 500 of them, will be linked to form a 1,500-foot-long sculpture that will hang from the canopy of the UC Davis Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art for its grand opening. Adorned with 200 gold-painted “charms,” the soft chain sculpture will replace the traditional ribbon associated with new building dedications.

“I’m thinking of the project as a gigantic charm bracelet for the building to wear,” said Crallé, who earned a master of fine arts degree from the UC Davis Department of Art and Art History in 2011.

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Shiva Ahmadi’s Art Blends the Beautiful and Beastly

Shiva Ahmadi (2) Shiva Ahmadi left Iran in 1998, but the country and the culture are still present in her artwork. Her paintings are inspired by delicate, jewel-like Persian miniatures depicting religious, mythological or royal court scenes, but Ahmadi’s are filled with things that are not so beautiful.

“I want to make beautiful things that get the viewers’ attention, but when they get closer they see the message is ugly,” said Ahmadi, an assistant professor of art.

The meticulously rendered people and animals, buildings and decorative elements in her art contrast with blood, bombs, oil pipelines running through religious shrines and tyrannical rulers surrounded by underlings depicted as monkeys, willing to serve whomever is in power for a little power of their own.

As part of an exhibition of Iranian artists earlier this year in New York, an animation of her painting “Lotus” was singled out by the Wall Street Journal: “It grabs viewers and immerses them in a terrifying parable of enlightened government turned bad. With remarkable subtlety and stunning beauty, a peaceful world presided over by a Buddha-like leader is transformed by merchants of death into a wasteland of violence and wanton destruction.”

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Guide Puts ‘Public’ in Art

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May 2015 – It’s the rare student or visitor at UC Davis who doesn’t take time to pose for a photo with one of the “Eggheads” on campus.

But the egg-shaped, giant bronze heads by the longtime faculty member Robert Arneson are only part of the art that can be seen strolling the campus. Art history graduate students Arielle Hardy, Justina Martino, Piper Milton and Brittany Royer have made these pieces even more accessible by creating the first guide to UC Davis’ public art.

“We wanted something that would be useful and interesting to a wide audience,” Milton says. “Other than the ‘Eggheads,’ most people don’t register or engage with the art on campus, and we hope to change that. All of us had an interest in sculpture, space and landscape, so it fulfilled our scholarly goals as well.”

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The Final Exam Is A Joke

June 2015 – Students in Karma Waltonen’s freshman seminar on stand-up comedy have to do just that. The final exam is a five-minute routine in front of an audience.

While the students want to be hilarious at the final, the class is really about clear and concise writing. Without that, the funny will flop.

Writing funny is a challenge

“They have to come up with unique material that they’re presenting before an audience while also being funny,” says Waltonen, better known as Dr. Karma, a continuing lecturer in the University Writing Program.

“They come in for the fun and wanting to try their hand at comedy, not thinking this is going to be a challenging writing class. Most of them have never presented anything in front of people. I tell them at the end that they’ve done the hardest public speaking they’ll ever have to do.”

Pushing boundaries

“Nothing is off limits, but we talk about how to frame the comments properly,” says Waltonen, who has done stand-up and is also an expert on The Simpsons and edited a just-released book of essays on Margaret Atwood.

“Sometimes a bad word just distracts the audience,” Waltonen says. “They need to use it for a reason. Some are making jokes that are intentionally trying to push the boundaries, and that’s what good comedy often does.”

Usually they find out what works — and what doesn’t — when they try out the material for their classmates.

“There’s immediate feedback from an audience, and that’s usually the best feedback,” she says.

Big audience for the stand-up exam

The final exam — or show, take your pick — is held in a large classroom packed not just with the 15 or so students who are performing, but also with friends, a few parents and siblings. The room is buzzing loudly even before the fledgling comics send the jokes flying.

“They told me they’re having a final in the next room,” Waltonen says. “I told them, ‘So are we — and it’s going to be loud.’”

Mondo Nano: Deep Fun With Games


Colin Milburn

May 2015 – Professor Colin Milburn takes readers in his new book on a video game-inspired journey through a world that is part science, part science fiction and mostly the place where the two converge.

In Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter (Duke University Press), Milburn, who holds the Gary Snyder Chair in Science and the Humanities, opens with the world’s smallest stop-motion film, “A Boy and His Atom.”

Much of the book is connected to nanotechnology — the study and application of extremely small things. But there’s also a lot of “mondo” — slang for extreme, big and striking, with connotations of being cool.

Nanotechnology, comic books and avatars Continue reading