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Saturday, July 9

Skirkanich 5

When I think about the brain and MRI imaging I always thing of Rorschach blot symmetry. We have bilateral symmetry in our bodies, but not every function in the brain occurs bilaterally. Activity may be localized to one region of the brain in charge of a particular specialty, but even then information passes all over to communicate to the body for movement or the mouth to speak, etc. During our lecture on force networks the idea of paper crumpling came up as something that creates a network of folds and tension points. I wanted to combine these to ideas visually but I didn't want an folds or crumples in my final paper. I started some inkblots on a piece of folded mylar, then transfer printed it to watercolor paper (I might want to try a different, smoother paper as I didn't like the resulting texture in this one) I made  bunch of those, adding some watercolor by reprinting over the india ink. I did try crumpling one of my watercolors, but guess what? Thick watercolor paper doesn't like to crumple!! I folded a piece of newsprint in half so my crumple would have bilateral symmetry, then overlaid it on my inkblot and used a seam ripper to poke holes through the papers to transfer the crumple nodes to my painting. Finally I stitched black thread to create edges between the poked nodes. I'm going to take all my experiments with me on Monday to share with the group. Depending on feedback I may continue doing these or maybe continue my polka dot nodes instead.
However, there is still something dissatisfying with these. I'm really only exploring the basics of what a network looks like in these pieces. There is no corresponding data resource that I am trying to visualize. I feel they would be more meaningful if they were connected to a data set in the real world.... But what should that be and how will I find it?

Thursday, July 7

Skirkanich 4


Something about all our talk of networks and topology and brains made me think about hyperbolic structures and crochet. Crocheting mirrors some network structures. I think of a crochet stitch like a little pi symbol, with a loop at the top (a node) and two legs (edges). A hyperbolic surface curves to maximize surface area. In physical space it takes up 3 dimensions, but topologically it is flat. If you have an endlessly branching network (each node subsequently branches off to two new nodes ad infinitum) eventually you run out of physical space to place the next generation of nodes as they branch outward and the surface begins to curve. The brain appears to have folds and ripples like this- it's one way to pack a lot of surface area into a small space. I made this small hyperball in a rainbow variegated yarn, which when complete reminded of the fMRI colorations showing activity and connection. I might make another in white and then stain specific areas.

Just as I felt a need to explore the topology idea in my previous post, I also want to explore different network structures. I played with "inking" this polka dot stamp I had with gradations of watercolor. It's beautiful, subtle color. The polka dot stamp creates a consistent and reproducible field of nodes upon which to play. I first did a little pencil and watercolor work (below) inspired by some discussion of the "Plinko" game.
Then tried a branching network, stitching the edges and then painting in the resulting negative space- the holes. I didn't quite understand the lecture we had that discussed brain topology and "holes". Have to think about ti some more. I'm still playing.


Wednesday, July 6

Skirkanich 3

I'm sure we were given an intro to topology during our lecture week because it helps consider networks as something to be analyzed independent of physical space. To think about connections and networks in the brain, you might need to pull them out of their tightly clustered physical confines and examine them simply in terms of numbers. But the concepts of topology itself blew my mind! I'm accustomed to the middle school level of geometry and understanding the structures of cubes etc in physical space. Imagine being able to stretch apart the vertices however far necessary to just look at the structure of vertices connected by edges. The visual possibilities sparked my curiosity.

On the way home on the last day of our lectures I happened upon the overflowing dumpster outside of the School of Design. Among the discarded sculptures I found a little model of a tetradecahedron made of thin cardboard. It seemed such a perfect little model of the math ideas we'd heard about over the week. I was reminded of Joseph Kosuth's One and Three Chairs piece, and so I painted the cardboard form in a complementary gradation, painted a geometric version of it unfolded, painted a topological version of it stretched out, and painted its definition. They are all visualizations of the same object. They all represent a tetradecahedron (or cuboctahedron). Which version would allow someone to understand the object best? Do you need to know what something is in physical space? Would a definition provide enough information? If you saw it topologically would you make the jump to geometry easily?
I think where I am going with this is that this is why we are involved in this internship at Penn. There is more than one way to understand information- and maybe you can't fully comprehend a science until you look at the information backwards, forwards, flattened, stretched, and insideout.

Tuesday, June 21

Skirkanich 2

Today marked the beginning of my internship in network visualization at UPenn. Our cohort of 6 artists and 6 high school students listened to lectures on creativity, networks and cognition. My favorite was Scott Barry Kauffman from the Positive Psychology center and the Imagination Institute 
He spoke quite a bit about the development of creativity and the personality characteristics associated with being a creative individual. He related much of what he explained to children and teachers, which made it all feel very relevant to me. It's ok to daydream. There's lots of kinds of intelligence and paths to becoming successful. The "foot in the door" is a good way to find your path towards your dream. And the noise or default mode of the brain is where imagination and creativity thrive.

Speaking of creativity...
Executive function in the brain may inhibit creative response. If we can turn off the quick parts of our brain that want to name things and filter out unnecessary information, then the slower daydreamy side can do its thing much more easily. Think of a everyday object. What is it's purpose? Boom!--your executive function just stormed in and got right to the point. A bat is for hitting a baseball, a chair is for sitting, a push pin is for holding papers to a board or wall. If that part of the brain can be reined in, the visualizing parts of the brain can play and make unexpected connections. A bat could become a railing on a staircase, a chair can become a bookshelf, and a pushpin could help you hold a miniature cob of corn to eat! I'm reminded of the artist Victor Nunes.

The toughest part of the day was comprehending our into to networks. It's really just a way of visualization information related to groups and their relationships. A group may be an individual, an idea, a organization, and they are represented as nodes. A relationship may be shared experiences, a social connection, a geographic relation,etc. and is represented as an edge or line connecting the nodes. Some nodes are more important than others in how they influence the dynamics of the system, and some system dynamics are better than others for transmitting information across the network. Proximity, bridging, popularity, and frequency all effect the influence of individual nodes. Ahhhhhhh my brain is about to explode thinking about all these things. I made the collage above to help me resolve the chaos of information...or maybe it just illustrates my chaos.
If you like visualizing information check out this website.

Tuesday, May 31

Conversation 6,7, & 8



Catching up on some "Conversation" photo blends. I've been doing this for 8 weeks now. I've been staying more in touch with my friend, but we haven't been sending as many pictures to each other every week. So there's less to play with.

Monday, May 30

Daily notes 21-22

Last week my studio time was usurped by an urgent project, so I had no time to make a Daily Notes strip last week. I finally finished #20 on Friday night. Today I put together #21 and #22 to represent the past 2 weeks. Hopefully I can catch up and get back on schedule. I'm nearly halfway through a year committed to this project, and cannot bear to let it lapse.
I've had a gorgeous 4-day weekend for Memorial Day, giving me a taste of summer freedom. Only 12 more days of school left! Every year passes more quickly than the last...

Saturday, May 28

Conversation 4 & 5

 I haven't had time to paint lately, but these digital collages are satisfying too. Perhaps I should just keep doing them and have them digitally printed on fabric at the end of the year...

Friday, May 27

Daily Notes 14-20

Somehow 6 weeks have flown by. Spring stayed cool until yesterday it decided to become 90 degrees. I survived PSSA testing and drama club. I voted. I taught kids how to weave and photoshop and build clay containers. Mama cat had kittens. I rode a bike to and from work nearly every day. I completed a second piece for a children's book illustration. I dropped off work for an alumni show at Moore. School is almost over, and my summer adventure at UPENN will start soon.
I've been doing this project for 5 months now. Life is looking colorful.

Sunday, May 1

Skirkanich 1

I am very happy to share that I've been selected for the Skirkanich internship in Network Visualization at the University of Pennsylvania this summer. They are teaming up artists, scientists, high school students and an art teacher (me!) to explore visualizing scientific concepts- especially how the brain and other networks work. The first resource we've been asked to consider is the video above.
I love thinking about the brain. It's such a complex organ that controls everything we do and say. How do we end up being such unique individuals with different ways of thinking? How does creativity work? How is it possible that I can think about how I think??!? I love it. This video shares research about how semantics are stored in the brain. I've heard about there being a "language center" in the brain, but this video seems to refute the idea of language being only in one place. Words and their meanings and related categories are grouped all over the brain. I'd like them to do more study on how foreign language is stored in the brain and how the translations may be grouped. Is mere and maman and annecigim and mom all stuck in one spot in my brain? Is that why I mix up french and turkish and english words all the time? And why do I feel a throbbing or strain in my left temple area when I'm trying to think of a word? Or why do the words breakfast, lunch, and dinner seem interchangeable when they come out of my mouth? How do the words get from auditory processing to understanding to saying? Could there be too many connections?
I like how in this video they used color to help map out categories of words and where they lived in the brain. I also found it interesting how they kept changing the way the brain was represented- sometimes showing all the wrinkles, sometimes butterflying it out, playing with 2D and 3D versions.

I expect I will continue to post more about my experiences as I go through the internship- as long as I'm allowed to share openly.

Monday, April 25

Conversation 2 & 3

 While I didn't get to stitching up a new strip yet this week, I did spend several hours this past weekend finishing the previous week's strip and painting up Conversation 2. On top of that I cut about 20 stencils to use in a teacher workshop with my colleagues. (I refuse to do"painting with a twist" where all the paintings end up all the same!)
I didn't have as many photos to work from this week, but apparently it's Spring and all the Azaleas are in bloom.


From our pair of bushes I collaged these two together:
All those azaleas will be fun to paint.

I went to the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym on Saturday and saw Christina Day's piece:
She was working with all recycled materials- lawn chairs in this instance. I believe she had a RAIR residency, which I would love to do someday....