CAST Announces 2017-18 Visiting Artists in Visual and Computational Arts

The MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) is pleased to announce the 2017-18 Visiting Artists in visual and computational arts: Pedro Reyes, B. Stephen Carpenter II, Agnieszka Kurant, Diemut Strebe, Karim Ben Khelifa, Newton Harrison, Jason Levine and Tomás Saraceno. In residence, these artists will experiment with a broad range of evocative materials and new methods of production—from using a 16-carat diamond and carbon nanotubes for architectonic models to launching zero-emission inflatable sculptures to enlisting Amazon Turkers as an invisible labor force for making artwork. Their works span many styles and formats to address socio-political, ecological, economic and aesthetic concerns.

Since the establishment of the Center in 2012, CAST has sponsored more than eighty visiting artists and collaborative projects with MIT faculty, students and researchers. Visiting Artists are chosen in response to an open call twice a year to all departments, labs and centers to host creative collaborations, and they are selected by a committee composed of faculty, museum and student representatives. CAST’s annual new music series, MIT Sounding, now in its fourth year, will feature acclaimed musicians in four concerts in 2017-18, including Mellon Distinguished Visiting Artist Maya Beiser’s culminating performance of her two-year residency.

CAST residencies allow artists to focus on the research and development phase of their work and to engage with ongoing teaching, artistic creation and scientific exploration across campus.   As the New York Times notes, “MIT is at the forefront of this cross-disciplinary movement with its institutional commitment, but it is drawing on a legacy of artists who are interested in science that dates back to Leonardo da Vinci and that has proliferated as technology has become ever more commonplace and accessible.”

You can learn more about all CAST Visiting Artists and their residencies here. Please join us for the public events with these artists. Subscribe to our mailing list and read our blog for the latest information.


2017-18 CAST Visiting Artists

Pedro Reyes’s pUN: The People’s United Nations (2013-present) View of First General Assembly, Queens Museum, New York, 2013. Photo: Ramiro Chavez.


Pedro Reyes

Pedro Reyes, CAST’s inaugural Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist, is a multidisciplinary artist based in Mexico City, whose sculptural, performative and participatory works address social and political issues. Reyes integrates elements of theater, psychology and activism in his works, which vary in form from penetrable sculptures (Capulas, 2002-08) to transformed weapons (Palas por Pistolas, 2008; Disarm, 2012) to puppet productions (Baby Marx, 2008; The Permanent Revolution, 2014) to experimental performances (People’s United Nations, 2013; Doomocracy, 2016).

At MIT, Reyes taught “The Reverse Engineering of Warfare: Challenging Techno-optimism and Reimagining the Defense Sector (an Opera for the End of Times).” The course explored the interplay of imperialism, armed interventions, the defense budget, the history of engineering and military technology, crisis management in environmental disasters, popular entertainment and the global imbalances created by the West’s fixation on technological advancement. The resulting performance included collaborative creative enactments of the actual facts and the (often unasked) ethical questions faced by society today.

Reyes is working on a screenplay for a puppet performance questioning the role of artificial intelligence now and in the future. A public program related to Reyes’s work will take place in spring 2018. Details forthcoming.


B. Stephen Carpenter II

During the fall term, B. Stephen Carpenter II, Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence at the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), will work with Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, to provide new perspectives on issues of access, privilege and the global water crisis (particularly in Africa and Central America) through a series of seminars, performances and workshops. The series, entitled Intentional Public Disruptions: Art, Responsibility and Pedagogy, will provide an opportunity for students, faculty and the MIT community to work in ceramics and photography with Carpenter and learn about his work and approach to socially engaged art and education.

Carpenter will also model how social practice (as action researchers, artists, educators and activists) offers possibilities to disrupt systems of oppression and ways to increase access to potable water in politically marginalized communities in the United States and abroad. Working with the Environmental Policy and Planning Group in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Susskind will create a new module with OpenCourseWare, which will serve as the permanent site for the digital materials developed and presented in conjunction with Carpenter’s visits.


Agnieszka Kurant

Conceptual interdisciplinary artist, Agnieszka Kurant explores how complex social, economic and cultural systems can operate in ways that confuse distinctions between fiction and reality or nature and culture. She investigates “the economy of the invisible,” in which immaterial and imaginary entities, fictions, phantoms and emergent processes influence political and economic systems. As the Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence at CAST Kurant collaborates with Boris Katz, Principal Research Scientist at MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and head of the InfoLab Group, to explore the crossover between collective intelligence and artificial intelligence. Kurant and Katz analyze how collective intelligence and emergence—in nature and culture—could be applied to creativity and art production. Their research will be used to develop crowd-sourced artworks that will be shaped and animated by a new working class—workers of online crowdsourcing marketplace platforms.


Diemut Strebe

Diemut Strebe, Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence at MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology, and Brian L. Wardle, a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the director of the necstlab and the Nano-Engineered Composite Aerospace Structures Consortium, are applying new research in engineered materials and structures to artworks.

The Redemption of Vanity is a 16-carat color diamond covered with a grown “forest” of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). The CNTs absorb 99.965 percent of light, creating the blackest black material on earth, which will be made open source. Although the diamond and CNTs are the same element—carbon—the different atom lattice structure creates opposing extremes in appearance upon exposure to light, while coinciding in the same object. For Strebe and Wardle, the artwork unifies extremes, intertwines luxury and art, and plays with ideas or expectations of consumption.

The second work in this collaboration, House Kundmanngasse 19, will also be covered with CNTs. It is an architectural model scaled at 1:100 of the actual house designed by Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The model refers to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus—”In order to draw a limit to thinking we should have to be able to think both sides of this limit.” Like the diamond, House Kundmanngasse 19 obscures its own plasticity and three-dimensionality because the CNTs absorb light and therefore cast no shadows. For Strebe, both works undermine or elude their own visibility to manifest a dichotomy while still representing ideas of the essence of the object or structure.

Strebe has collaborated with several MIT faculty, including Noam Chomsky on Sugababe (2014) and Litmus (2014), Seth Lloyd and Dirk Englund on Wigner’s Friends (2014), and Alan Guth on Plötzlich (2017).

Diemut Strebe, Sugababe, 2014. Sugababe is a living replica of Vincent van Gogh’s ear, grown from tissue engineered cartilage.


Karim Ben Khelifa

Award-winning photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa is widely known for his coverage of the Iraq and Afghan wars. While a Fellow at the MIT Open Documentary Lab in 2013-15, Ben Khelifa transformed his latest project, The Enemy, from a photo exhibition into a virtual reality installation. This immersive installation uses virtual reality to bring the audience into contact with soldiers from opposite sides of longstanding global conflicts. He has further developed the project as a CAST Visiting Artist, in collaboration with Professor Fox Harrell of the Imagination, Computation and Expression (ICE) Laboratory. Together, they are incorporating concepts from cognitive science and artificial intelligence-based interaction models into the project, with the goal of testing whether a VR installation can engender empathy and humanistic reflection for each side of the story through listening to the soldiers’ testimonies. The Enemy makes its North American premier at the MIT Museum from October 5 through December 31, 2017.

The project deploys two interactive experiences: an installation using virtual reality headsets to create an immersive experience, and a smartphone application using augmented reality to expand the number of participants worldwide. This project has provoked a great deal of interest; it was featured at the TriBeCa Film Festival 2015 and has received press coverage by Time, The New York Times, the BBC and more.


Newton Harrison

Visiting Artist Newton Harrison and Anne Whiston Spirn, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, will explore artistic methods as ways to wed the insights of ecology with city design and planning as a means of adaptation. As part of the course 4.213/11.308 Ecological Urbanism, Harrison and Spirn will work with students on “A New River for Philadelphia,” a project that investigates how to re-create a river that was buried in a sewer in Philadelphia in 1880. Students will employ methods developed by Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison—leading pioneers of the eco-art movement—to identify a problem and scale of inquiry, devise solutions and design strategies for implementation that “bring forth a new state of mind.” “A New River for Philadelphia” represents the culmination of 30 years of Spirn’s action research.

Throughout his residency, Harrison will meet with faculty and students and give public presentations tracing the eco-art movement that he and Helen Mayer Harrison pioneered and have led for more than 40 years, which uses art to address environmental problems, such as agriculture and forestry issues, watershed restoration and urban renewal, among others.


Jason Levine

Jason Levine is a musician, performer, and computational poet who will be collaborating with Professors Eran Egozy and Nick Montfort. His residency will focus on the interactive and generative qualities of coding to create real-time software systems for live performance. In April Levine will visit classes, including Egozy’s Interactive Music Systems and Montfort’s Word Made Digital. He will also give a public lecture and lead a workshop on live coding encouraging students to experiment with using code in an improvisational and artisanal mode.

As the Principal Worldwide Evangelist for Adobe, Levine travels the globe educating users and promoting the Adobe Creative Cloud, with a focus on video products like Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition, Photoshop and SpeedGrade. Levine has conducted training/workflow sessions for some of the top broadcast corporations in Europe and Asia including BBC, RTL and SVT. Prior to Adobe, he was a full-time recording engineer working in studios coast-to-coast, engineering hundreds of recordings in a multitude of genres, prompting the formation of BoodahJooMusic Publishing. Levine also has a children’s television music program in development entitled Just Play Music™, whose goal is to educate and inspire kids and adults alike to embrace the incredible feelings of playing live music.


Aerocene balloon propelled by the energy of sun heat. Tomás Saraceno, “Becoming Aerosolar.” Credit: © Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2015.


Tomás Saraceno

As a CAST Visiting Artist since the residency program’s inception in 2012, Tomás Saraceno has developed collaborative projects with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) to advance his ongoing Cloud Cities, Hybrid Webs and Aerocene series of works.

For his Aerocene project, Saraceno deploys aerosolar inflatables, both in installations and through test flights, which he envisions as “climate-conscious sculptures of orbs floating in the stratosphere.” Made from silver and transparent Mylar, they are kept afloat by solar and infrared radiation and designed to travel on the jetstream. Meteorologist Lodovica Illari in EAPS, along with Professor of Oceanography Glenn Flierl and researcher Bill McKenna, collaborated with the artist by developing simulations of the sculptures’ potential flight paths and duration, work that was presented in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2017.

As part of this work, Saraceno designed The Aerocene Explorer, a portable backback that contains a tethered-flight starter kit for solar-powered atmospheric exploration, offering a new way to sense the environment. Each Explorer kit comes with a floating sculpture, a photo/video camera, and a pack of sensors that measure air temperature, humidity, and pressure. This configuration of elements is a powerful springboard for countless creative and scientific endeavors in the Aerocene. Aerocene will be presented at MIT in April 2018 during the Cambridge Science Festival.




Posted on September 12, 2017 by Sharon Lacey