Harvard Visiting Artist Carla Ciuffo Merges Art With Cutting-Edge Science

Carla Ciuffo, Nano.  Stasis & The Little Black Dress
Carla Ciuffo, Nano. Stasis & The Little Black Dress
(courtesy Carla Ciuffo)
  • Carla Ciuffo, Nano.  Stasis & The Little Black Dress

    Carla Ciuffo, Nano. Stasis & The Little Black Dress

    courtesy Carla Ciuffo

  • Portrait, Kevin Kit Parker, Harvard’s Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics

    Portrait, Kevin Kit Parker, Harvard’s Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics

    courtesy Carla Ciuffo

What began as a quest for the artist to find a compelling new medium for her artwork became a larger vision merging science, the little black dress and the universe of nanofibers. The unlikely source centers around a cotton candy machine. And it’s enough to make your head spin. Bridging the divide between art and science, artist-photographer Carla Ciuffo endeavors to show how artists can use science to make their fantasies real and palpable; and how science uses the arts in the same way.

Nano . Stasis & the Little Black Dress is a traveling museum exhibit with an art form that explores the exquisite side of a radical new technology – one that is changing lives. Ciuffo's idea for a fresh art concept was sparked by Harvard’s Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics, Kevin Kit Parker and his invention of a cotton candy inspired rotary jet spinning technology. Parker’s groundbreaking work has created a textile that is evolving for a spectrum of futuristic uses – from wound healing, tissue and organ growth to "smart" sports related products. The Little Black Dress is not far behind.

Like Rapunzel turning straw into gold, these futuristic nanofibers are spun into versatile textiles from polymer composites.

Ciuffo says: "I’m the first layperson to actually work in Kit Parker's lab, experimenting with the fiber. It's been a meditative, frustrating, visually compelling and mostly thrilling experience. Imagine trying to “catch” these tiny graceful tendrils that disappear into the air, and spin them, like Rapunzel, into a usable solid piece of canvas. It takes experimentation with the solution itself, a combination of solvent and nylon beads, and then a focused, patient process of catching the elusive fibers from a rotary device (the cotton candy machine) using a hand held makeshift drill."

In addition to its medical usage, other industries are looking into Parker’s technology, e.g. high couture fashion houses and “smart” sportswear companies. Ciuffo's exhibit ties into Parker's upcoming course in Neurofashion. The Neurofashion seminar will explore how we process visual cues in the environment...edge detection, color contrast, etc...and how these kinds of ideas could be used to design a garment we can't resist - much like the classic "little black dress."

Parker's ideas about proper fashion design revolve around using Cartesian geometries that highlight straight edge detection and contrast detection in the brain centers for visual processing - basically satisfying visuals that delight us.

Carla Ciuffo's objective is to tell the story of the fibers and show the ethereal side of their universe using her signature large format photographic composites. Her portraiture of models wearing these acute, sharp angled Cartesian geometric designs will be complimented with a tactile display of garments made by well known designers that showcase the essence of Kit Parker's seminar. A streaming video of the spinning fibers and a newsworthy component that tracks the new nanofiber technology and its futuristic usage will complete the multi media exhibit.

"Nearly one year later and after several trips to Harvard, working closely with graduate student Nina Sinatra, I’ve developed tiny nanofiber 'canvases,'" explains Ciuffo.

The “nano canvases” will be imprinted with Ciuffo's artwork and showcase the fiber imagery behind large magnifying lenses. Large format acrylic artwork composites using images of fiber from SEM photos taken with Harvard’s electron microscope will showcase the fiber's unique universe.

Ciuffo says, "My portraiture of models wearing sharp angled garments will demonstrate Kit's concept surrounding the 'Little Black Dress.'"

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