Projects Connect Art and Science in Paris and Davis

main image of hand holding pole upright by Tim Hyde
Signature image for "Useful Fictions" by Tim Hyde.


corn syrup with red dye that fluid dynamic physicists in Cambridge use to model the rate of which ice melts in Antarctica. By looking at the the way the syrup moves, they derive the math equation to describe it.
Corn syrup with red dye that models the rate at which ice melts in Antarctica. Photo by Tim Hyde.

Artists and scientists led by UC Davis College of Letters and Science faculty will merge their talents and techniques, both physical and mental, to challenge themselves during a weeklong symposium in Paris.

The symposium, called Useful Fictions, “will create an unusual collision of minds,” said Jiayi Young, principal investigator and assistant professor of design. Co-principal investigators are Timothy Hyde, assistant professor of art, and James Crutchfield, professor of physics, and Jean-Marc Chomaz, an artist and physicist at École Polytechnique.

Participants will take part in lectures and discussions as well as collaborative work in labs to explore climate measurement, heat flux in the human body, 4-D printing, multi-dimensional data and other areas. Part of the symposium is a public art project titled “Speed of Light Expedition” and an exhibition that will show work-in-progress projects from Useful Fictions. The symposium takes place Sept. 9–13 at the École Polytechnique, Institut Polytechnique de Paris.

Open-minded and open-ended research

The overarching goal of the symposium, said Young, is to “create an opportunity to bring artists and scientists together to consider assumed premises and imagine possible futures in the presence of complex global ecological, social and political upheaval.”

During the week there will be a focus on how mechanisms of measurement — such as the speed of light or a photographic record — are fragile and prone to manipulation and misinterpretation.

“This is a stage to act out a new model for shared research,” Hyde said. “How methods of science would benefit from art, and the way science could be expanded.”

International students and faculty participating

The symposium will include 24 researchers, artists and scientists from 11 universities in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Italy, including a curator and media scholar, a fluid dynamicist, a data and interactional designer, a “nano artist,” and a creative technologist and “civic hacker.” 

Also taking part are 18 graduate students, including UC Davis design student Jean Menezes, from throughout the U.S., Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Iceland, Colombia and Spain.

The project was launched with a UC Davis Global Affairs International Activities Seed Grant, along with funds from the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, the Chaire Arts et Sciences of the École Polytechnique, École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, and The Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso.

Guest artists coming to UC Davis labs

What the UC Davis faculty come away from the Paris symposium with will inform their research and teaching, Young and Hyde said. It will also connect with a new art and science project they are launching this academic year at UC Davis.

“Artists Accessing Scientific Labs: Conversations with the Public” will bring artists to campus to work in labs with scientists. The first visit will take place in the coming winter quarter and the visiting artists will make public presentations. Artists and designers will be nominated by a panel of art professionals, scientists and community arts leaders.

“Everything is so much more open in our culture and it’s a good time to bring these two areas together,” said Young, who holds a master’s degree in experimental atomic physics as well as a Master of Fine Arts.

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, the UC Davis Office of Research and the Manetti Shrem Museum.

Learn more about the UC Davis leaders of Useful Fictions

Jiayi Young's art installation of liquid and tubes
Art installation by Jiayi Young used bot generated tweets.

James Crutchfield is a founder of the Institute of Unknown Purpose, a surreal and playful pop-up “museum” that blends science and art.

Jiayi Young created an art installation in which liquid, light and sound are activated by bot-generated tweets leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Tim Hyde works in the expanded field of photography. His photographs, videos and collages have been featured in exhibitions all over the world.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science