Student Masterpieces: Exhibit A

Dec. 2, 2009, 12:02 a.m.

What happens when engineers and artists combine science, technology and aesthetics? The answer: a playground that would make your inner 9-year-old drool with slap-happy wonder. And what’s more: you can now take a design class here at Stanford from the artist and professor who created one such playground masterpiece.

John Edmark, lecturer in the Art and Art History Department, recently completed a three-month residency at the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception in San Francisco in which he co-designed the exhibit “Geometry Playground,” a play structure housing mirrors and video imaging to create a kaleidoscope-like experience. Edmark, refreshed and enthused from his time away from the Farm, has returned this year to instruct a class called “Design for Exploration” for students to design their own interactive museum exhibits for the Exploratorium.

“I have loved the opportunity to collaborate between Stanford and the Exploratorium,” Edmark said.

“Professor Edmark is very excited about the class and sharing his experience with the Exploratorium,” said Jason Chua ‘11, a student in the class. “He is pushing us hard.”

The weekly class, taught by Edmark and his co-instructor, Exploratorium scientist Sebastian Martin, consists of workshops on topics such as mirrors, mechanical motion and color. Students–roughly evenly divided between graduate students and undergrads–were assigned to create an actual exhibit for the Exploratorium museum incorporating elements of science in a playful and interactive manner.

Ben Halpern ‘11 designed an exhibit entitled “How do movies move?” showcasing the mechanics of early 1900s film projectors called Geneva drives. Instead of letting the film canister roll continuously, the mechanism actually pauses on each individual frame for 1/24th of a second before switching to the next frame.

“I came up with the idea after reading the Wikipedia entry for Geneva drive during an earlier mechanical motion assignment,” Halpern said.

Purin Phanichphant, a graduate student in art, took a more interactive approach with his piece. Participants in Phanichphant’s exhibit, VideoEcho, play with their shadow as it is projected onto a dark screen by live video feed. The effect is much like seeing your image infinitely multiplied by two inward facing mirrors, but with a delay that causes a gradual rippling effect to trail from your shadow.

“One of the biggest challenges occurred when I realized that the camera needed to be easily adjusted and not fixed to the armature,” Phanichphant said. “I dealt with this by loosely attaching a makeshift tripod to the projector.”

Edmark credited much of the success of the class to Martin, his co-instructor.
“Without him, the class would not be possible,” Edmark said.

Martin was trained in seismology and also teaches a course on Physics and Music at UC-Berkeley.

“I enjoy introducing a creative process based on engagement in play and experimentation” Martin said of his teaching style for the class.

Edmark’s Geometry Playground is currently on display at Cantor Arts Center. The exhibit will be on loan to Cantor until the entire Playground is completed and ready to go on nationwide tour. Edmark encourages students to take advantage of the generous Stanford Institute for the Creativity and the Arts (SICA) grant available to them.

The students’ exhibits will be on display at the Exploratorium all day Friday, Dec. 4.

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