The art of investigation | UCI News


While much of the research focus at UCI has been directed towards the sciences – particularly those relating to the health of people and the planet – for decades, the Claire Trevor School of the Arts has also generated searches, although much less noticed. Jesse Colin Jackson is on a mission to change that.

An associate professor of electronic art and design, Jackson is also associate dean of research and innovation at CTSA and executive director of the Beall Center for Art + Technology. He is all-out when it comes to promoting CTSA research, especially that which involves multiple artistic disciplines, and even other schools within the UCI and beyond.

“It’s increasingly important that the arts be part of more research conversations on campus,” Jackson says. “One of the characteristics of research is the pursuit of important new directions. What is your contribution to the field? What are you doing innovative? These questions also apply to the arts – and we are already answering them positively.

However, he also clarifies that the traditional view of the academic arts – that faculty and students develop their skills and pursue mastery of a discipline – is not only “super important”, but, by its very nature, a form of research.

“You can’t become a music or dance pioneer without mastering the technique, and you don’t do it in a vacuum,” says Jackson. “It’s evolving. You incorporate new ideas” into an existing canon.

Being embedded at an R1 university inspires and compels both CTSA faculty and students to conduct research, which Jackson defines as the pursuit of cutting edge novelty and new forms of creative fields.

“Part of my role as associate dean is to advocate for artists to become art teachers because they want to advance the field as any other teacher would,” he says.

Explaining that outside of school can be difficult because the public—including many anteaters—think of research in terms of a hypothesis, laboratory experiments, and a scientific paper or study submitted to peer review.

“The School of the Arts has different types of research and different types of researchers,” says Jackson. “It is important to note that we have a substantial contingent of what you might call conventional scholars who follow a humanistic model – people who study the fields, especially the performing arts side of this school. So in dance and drama, you have musicologists and playwrights. The dance department is small, but a good third of it is occupied by people who don’t dance themselves. There are people who study dance theory and dance science, which is kind of an exciting frontier because dancing has all kinds of physical and health implications. The issues of being a dancer and the risk of injury are worth investigating.

“For example, we have people who work at the frontiers of dance science, like Kelli Sharp, who studies motor learning patterns in dancers. This research not only helps dancers develop their creative potential, but can help us understand various neurological disorders. Dancers operate at the limit of human capability – understanding and exploring this edge is both creatively and scientifically important.

Sharp, assistant professor of dance science and co-director of the iMOVE lab at the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, focuses on injury prevention and dancer wellness using motion capture systems and analysis. of the relation of movement in space to further reduce injury. Sharp is also investigating the development of new technologies to advance rehabilitation strategies for people with neurological disorders by incorporating motion capture systems and functional magnetic resonance with dance and movement therapy.

Many CTSA research projects culminate in an exhibition or performance. “We’ve always had people who go all out for scholarship, or people who go through and spend some of their time making art,” Jackson says. “And some theorize about the nature of artwork or work on collaborative projects with people who do that kind of theory, whether it’s science-based or humanities-based.”

Exposure to CTSA’s research side was boosted by recent coverage of Dean Stephen Barker’s retirement after 35 years of service at UCI and the new Stephen Barker Arts Research Endowment. Created by Dean’s Arts Board member Tom Nielsen, Richard and Cheryll Ruszat, the endowment aims to maintain and expand arts research and innovation throughout the school.

“Research is a key word at the UCI and usually it means science – test tubes and telescopes,” Barker says in the spring edition of Relate, CTSA magazine. “But in the arts, we seek the nature of the human experience – all of its flaws and weaknesses, its dark side as well as its light side. The main difference in the model of inquiry in the arts is that we do not seek really solutions to problems, we question their complexities.

“From the moment he arrived at the UCI, he championed interdisciplinary forms of work,” Jackson says of Barker. “It’s a very forward-looking position today, let alone 35 years ago. He was a dancer turned literary theorist, and by joining the CTSA, he had the opportunity to try to integrate these fields. He navigated between these two worlds – and others – with his exceptional mind for years, and finally concluded that the most exciting frontier for creativity was to work in an interdisciplinary way – or meta-disciplinary, as he prefers. call – because it suggests a whole new space of knowledge located beyond existing disciplines.

According to Jackson, having an endowment focused on artistic research will allow for more cutting-edge staff, equipment and projects. “For example, in the arts, we often share research infrastructure,” he says. “The Experimental Media Performance Lab is one of our flagship facilities for experimental performance work. The name literally explains it: you have experimental media because it is full of projection tools, lighting tools, computerized equipment and a high-speed Internet connection. And it’s performance-driven. It is a theater-like space, but the types of performances that take place there are not conventional theater. And we call it a lab because we do things there that are still experimental. The space is shared across the entire school, and the endowment clearly has a role to play in providing seed funding for exciting new projects by students and faculty.

An international cross-disciplinary group of artists and designers came together at the UCI in 2019 for the world premiere of YOMO/Intermedia. “Your Ocean, My Ocean” is a series of performances and intermedia exhibitions that juxtapose responses to the natural beauty of oceans and coasts with responses to harmful human impacts on marine ecosystems. With support from the UCI Office of Research, the project was made possible by the five-year-old Institute for 21st Century Creativity, whose founding faculty director is arts professor John Crawford. intermedia in the Department of Dance, whose mission is to cultivate experimental and artistic research to innovate and challenge the creativity of this century and beyond. CTSA Research and Innovation, established in 2020, now encompasses 21C.

CTSA has also been drawn into research from elsewhere on campus, including UCI Brain, which has led Jackson to work with neuroscientists to explore the impact of creativity. S. Ama Wray, a dance teacher, has also been involved in neuroscience, recently hosting a neuro-arts symposium with Michael Yassa, director of UCI Brain and holder of the James L. McGaugh Chair in the Neurobiology of Learning and of memory.

“I would say the most common interdisciplinary research opportunity we seek out in the arts is when science asks us a question that relates to creativity or a creative field,” Jackson says.

But the original inter-school research also finds its origin in the arts, associating scientists and humanists. The “Reading Frankenstein” series of projects by studio art teacher Antoinette LaFarge relies on Jim Fallon, professor emeritus of anatomy and neurobiology, as scientific consultant.

The Stephen Barker Arts Research Endowment will allow CTSA to initiate more interdisciplinary research. “For us, a much more obvious way to approach arts research questions is to start with the arts and then find the right collaborators in other fields,” Jackson says.

Based on his own experience, there is no doubt that UCI scientists are happy to participate in CTSA-led research projects. “When we work with scientists, they’re incredibly excited and they’re both encouraged and encouraging and willing to collaborate,” he says.

Jackson recalled a recent event he organized that featured two scientists and two art curators as speakers. Although the four collaborators “speak different languages ​​and have completely different time scales, different locations and different support mechanisms,” he says they each seemed to gain valuable insights from different approaches and points. divergent views.

“That’s how you do something,” he adds. “That’s how we work together. And that’s how a lab is structured in the arts versus how a lab is structured in the sciences. It’s about figuring out where the parallels lie and figuring out where the challenges lie, working together.

If you would like to learn more about supporting this or other UCI activities, please visit the Brilliant Future website at Launched publicly on October 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for the UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and raising $2 billion in philanthropic investments, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more . The Claire Trevor School of Arts plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting


Comments are closed.