ISL Takes Art and Technology Project on the Road

The Beckman Institute's Integrated Systems Laboratory (ISL) had a hit with its CalculArt exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum in 2006. Now ISL is ready to enlighten others around the country about the possibilities of marrying art and technology with a traveling version of the exhibit that features mathematically visualized art.

When staff members and researchers from the Beckman Institute's Integrated Systems Laboratory (ISL) first created a virtual environment for creating and displaying works of art, they made it scalable and reconfigurable. The environment, called Collaborative Advanced Navigation Virtual Art Studio (CANVAS), is now also movable.

The creators of CANVAS presented the project's first curated show in 2006 at the University of Illinois' Krannert Art Museum with an exhibition of mathematical art called CalculArt. On Jan. 20th CalculArt will begin a six-month run at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City, Michigan, that will feature some of the works displayed at Krannert as well as some new pieces. It is the start of what ISL Director Hank Kaczmarski hopes will be one long road show for the innovative environment that connects art and technology in new ways.

"We hope this is on the road forever," Kaczmarski said. "It has no need to come back here. If we can get the Beckman name out there across the country as not just a place for science and technology but also for very high end technology-assisted art, we'll do it."

The first CalculArt exhibit featured pieces from pioneers in digital art, collaborative works from faculty members from the Illinois departments of Mathematics and Art and Design, as well as mathematically-inspired sculptures from the Beckman Institute. At that time, there was no thought to an exhibition off-campus, but a feature story in the New York Times about CANVAS caught the eye of Dennos executive director Eugene Jenneman.

"I'm not sure that we even initially thought that we would want to (do a traveling exhibit)," Kaczmarksi said. "But after the CalculArt run at the Krannert Art Museum made the New York Times, the museum director at the Dennos said 'I have to have one of those.' He was very convincing and we got a National Endowment for the Arts grant to take it on the road."

So The Traveling CANVAS project was born, with CalculArt at the Dennos its first show. Kaczmarski and Beckman faculty member and Professor of Mathematics George Francis are curators for the Dennos show. They chose the pieces, selecting works by contributors to the Krannert exhibition such as Donna Cox and Ellen Sandor, as well as new ones representing the intersection of mathematical art and technology.

Artist and sculptor Tony Robbin (well-known for his mathematical visualization art) and ISL's own Stewart Dickson are among those whose works will appear in the new traveling exhibit. Two innovative artists will present works that use Mathematica software from Champaign's own Wolfram Research. Scott Carter is contributing images that were created using Mathematica software imported into Adobe Illustrator while Robert Lang uses Mathematica to create origami art pieces.

"When we did it at the Krannert we took a number of the sculptures that are at Beckman, but we were not going to do that this time," Kaczmarski said. "So we asked for some national and international contributions and we have them."

Kaczmarksi said the artists included are considered among the best in the field of digital visualization art. "These artists are conference award winners, these are the leading presenters."

Kaczmarski said the exhibition will also include works of metal mathematical sculptures that have been on display at Altgeld Hall for decades.

"We're taking a couple of pieces on the road; these are steel structures, aluminum structures that have been locked in display cases since the 1920s and nobody knows about them," he said. "It's the largest collection in the world."

So the Traveling CANVAS exhibit will be enlightening visitors not only about mathematical art, but also about the University of Illinois and the Beckman Institute.

"We want to promote the stuff that is done at Beckman but also to promote what is the greatest mathematical sculpture collection in the world at Altgeld," Kaczmarski said.

The genesis of this project has its roots in both the belief of Francis, Kaczmarski, and others that 3-D immersive virtual reality environments like Beckman's CAVE and Cube could add a powerful new tool for artistic endeavors, and in an Illinois campus initiative aimed at connecting art and technology.

"The logical flow of this is it started in the basement of the Beckman in the CAVE and the Cube," Kaczmarski said. "We got out of the basement to the broader University through the Krannert exhibition. Now we're getting it out nationally. It's just a great vehicle to highlight some of the research that is done here." Kaczmarksi and members of his staff will install the exhibit in Michigan at the Dennos, which is part of Northwestern Michigan College.

"After this - it will stay on the road, we hope," Kaczmarski said. "And we hope to bring in more local artists. We hope that mathematicians at each university and local mathematicians will contribute something and then it will live on and grow."