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Winter 2012-2013

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Visual Artists as Materials Engineers

Jennifer Pastor art work
Two visitors in the new art gallery at the Structural and Materials Engineering building interact playfully with art work by Jennifer Pastor during the building's dedication.

Photographic prints made by using an electron microscope to scan nano and micro particles. "Digital clay" sensitive to human touch. A 3D model of a dying tree and its ghost version, cast in polished, mirrored stainless steel.

These are just some of the projects that the visual artists who have taken residence in the Structural and Materials Engineering building are working on. The new building houses 12 Visual Arts studios distributed across the building's four floors, as well as exhibition and performance spaces.

"By bringing together members of the Visual Arts faculty with researchers and teachers in engineering, we call attention to the ways our creative artists are working with both traditional and innovative materials," said Seth Lerer, dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities at UC San Diego. "In many ways, our Visual Arts department is a group of materials engineers. Our sculptors, our painters, our digital artists and our social theorists all work together to understand the place of engineered materials in culture and the imagination."

Meet the Artists' New Helper: a Robot

RobotVisual artists in the new building will get help from an unusual assistant to bring their creations to life: a robot – well, a robotic mill – that can carve complex forms from composite materials, foams, plastics, fiberglass, hard and soft woods, aluminum, brass and bronze.

The machine, made by KUKA Systems, is already being used for several projects. Rubén Ortiz-Torres, a Visual Arts professor, is using it to create diptychs – pairs of panels hinged together – milled with surface shapes and coated with paints that change color as light strikes at different angles.

"I transform tools and other functional objects into means of expression and cultural and political commentaries," Ortiz-Torres said. "However, we will be collaborating with the engineers who might have additional ideas about the eventual function and purpose of our work."

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