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Science meets art

"All science touches on art; all art has its scientific side. The worst scientist is he who is not an artist; the worst artist is he who is no scientist."

So said Armand Trousseau, a prominent French physician of the 19th century. However, today people tend to regard scientists and artists as totally different.

But think of some legendary figures known as both, like Leonardo Da Vinci. Is there really a sharp line between the two fields?



Two current exhibitions in Seoul set out to prove that art and science are inseparable.

"A.L.I.C.E. Museum 2009: Future School," hosted by Art Center Nabi, is underway at SOMA Museum of Art in southeastern Seoul. It showcases 21 interactive media works and installations by 16 well-established international and local artists.

"We are introducing scientific pieces that can educate children on ecology, biology and technology of the 21st century as well as encourage their artistic sensibilities," said Lee Yoo-na, researcher at Nabi.

The show has five sections, the first letter of each one corresponding to the acronym "A.L.I.C.E.," - "Artistic Studio," "Lively Station," "Intelligent Platform," "Creative Engine," and "Eco-Friendly Wonderland."

"Eco-Friendly Wonderland" comes first, greeting viewers with digitalized waves projected onto the floor. The video and sound is realistic enough to prompt you into jumping over it.

"Bio Photon" by Takahiro Ando, also at the section, visualizes bio photons that three different herb seeds emit in the course of germination. The real-time vision projected on a domed screen looks like a star-filled sky.

"Creative Engine," "Intelligent Platform" and "Lively Station" are the parts that kids love the most. They are filled with digital creatures, sounds, 3D videos and other artistic and high-tech educational tools reminiscent of computer games.

Using the remote controller of the Wii, Nintendo's popular home video game console, visitors can witness, control and discover the artificial ecosystem created by Ji Haru and Graham Wakefield on a big screen.

Stelarc, an Austrailian-based artist famous for his experimental works on futurism and the human body, created his own computerized conversational agent on a screen. When a visitor types in a question, a 5-meter high head that looks like the artist's responds in real-time lip syncs.

"Art Studio," the final section, provides media art workshops which children can create scientific artworks with professional artists. It opens every weekend.

"Automata Museum with Cookie Robots from Automata to Robot," running at Automata Museum in western Seoul is another exhibition that gives children both scientific and artistic experiences.

About 40 pieces of original automata works by 17 renowned artists are on display.

Automata, which means self-operating machines, is a term used in the art or science field to describe non-electronic moving toys made to resemble human or animal actions.

It might sound unfamiliar to some because it was introduced in Korea only three or four years ago.

"Japan has about a 400-year-long history of automata and about 120 museums, not to mention Europe where there are even more. But in Korea, this is the first automata museum and we are not sure if there are any Korean automata artists," said Kim Gi-byum, director of Utospace.

The exhibits, all by foreign artists, are mostly made of wood and move when their handles are turned. Their interiors are open so viewers can see and learn how they work.

"Its exterior is art, and the inside is science. In Britain, automata are included in the school curriculum for science or art classes," said Kim.

Examine carefully, and viewers will find out that the works are not as simple as they seem.

For example, take "The Barecats" by Paul Spooner. Each part of the toy - from the baby cat's legs, arms, eyes, head to the mother cat's hands, eyes and head - gradually moves at one turn of the handle.

Seeing the whole procedure, one can finally understand the story between the two cats that the artist intended to tell.

Some move like magic. The gentleman in Pierre Mayer's "Levitation" slowly floats up from the chair he is sitting on as the handle turns. Surprisingly, it is hard to find any connections between him and the chair.

Robots made of cookies and chocolates can also be found at the exhibition.

"A.L.I.C.E. Museum 2009: Future School" runs through June 21 at SOMA Museum of Art in Bangi-dong, southeastern Seoul. Admissions are 6,000 won for all ages and 3,000 won for groups of more than 15 persons. For more information, call (02) 425-1077 or visit www.somamuseum.org or www.nabi.or.kr/alice2009

The automata exhibition runs until the end of June at Automata Museum in Sindorim Technomart in Sindorim-dong, western Seoul. Admissions are 12,000 won. For more information, call (02) 2111-6464 or visit www.utospace.com

By Park Min-young

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