Shamans and alchemists share characteristics of both scientists and artists, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz told an audience in a Sao Paulo gallery in August. He sees that mixture in himself and his MIT collaborators.
His sojourn in Cambridge as an MIT Visiting Artist involved working with scientists like Koch Institute postdoc Tal Danino, who shared the microphone that day, as well as Marcelo Coelho SM ’08, PhD ’13, an artist and designer who worked with the Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group. The talk described the innovative research involved in producing his new Sandcastles and Colonies series, the results of his MIT residency.
In one project, Muniz wanted to etch a large-scale castle drawing on tiny grains of sand, and, with Coelho’s help, he did just that applying a focused ion beam and scanning electron microscope to the problem. In another effort, he wanted to print using live bacteria, and, with Danino, who is studying how bacteria can defeat cancer, he was able to program bacteria to print colors. The vivid images of his Colonies series are microscopic photos of bacteria and cancer cells.
Coelho and Muniz’s collaboration began in 2012 when Coelho brought him to campus as a visiting artist. Coelho saw a connection between his own research on materials and human-computer interaction and Muniz’s images, which were constructed from substances not usually associate with artmaking, such as dust, chocolate, and industrial garbage.
One result of their collaboration is Muniz’s newest documentary, This is Not a Ball, which explores the scientific and cultural meanings of the soccer ball, a timely topic coinciding with World Cup news. Coelho helped create the defining movement of the film—the assembly of 10,000 soccer balls in Mexico’s Azteca stadium.
“I love scientists and science,” says Muniz, who credits his MIT experience with ramping up the technological aspects of hiswork. And what’s next? Muniz plans to open an art and technology school in one of Rio’s hillside favelas.