Solo Exhibition at the NYU Langone Medical Center Art Gallery

Laura Splan: Manifest
Solo Exhibition
Curated by Katherine Meehan, NYU Langone Art Collection
June 28–August 23, 2017
NYU Langone Medical Center Art Gallery
New York, NY


The NYU Langone Medical Center Art Gallery is pleased to present Laura Splan: Manifest, a visual translation of the human experience through data-driven works of art.

Laura Splan is a conceptual artist whose work combines art, science, and technology. 

This exhibition presents a series of her sculptures, tapestries, and a work on paper that were made through the use of electromyography readings.  Electromyography records the electrical activity of muscle tissue and is used to assess the health of muscles, and cells that control them called motor neurons. An EMG translates these electrical signals into graphs, sounds, or numerical values. 

To create these works, Splan recorded EMG data from her own body using an Arduino EMG kit (open-source electronic platform for developing interactive projects). She performed various actions and expressions such as smiling, frowning, blinking, and even swallowing.  She altered the kit's code to control the EMG data output and wrote computer programs to translate and generate forms and patterns from the data sources. 

The first series of works generated from this data was "Manifest," which is a group of six sculptures representing six actions or emotions: blink twice, squint, frown, furrow, smile, and swallow.  These actions and facial expressions are associated with the feeling of wonder and marvel. With these 3D printed sculptures made of laser-sintered polyamide nylon, Splan aimed to provide a new visual representation of this experience of wonder–a representation that would differ from words or images of facial expressions or even paintings, but instead of something that would have a direct link to the body.

To fabricate these sculptures, she wrote a custom program to create waveforms from the numerical EMG data. She then used the waveforms as profiles for models that she created in 3D modeling software. These white and pristine 3D works of art depict the exactitude of the readings and the direct correlation of producing them from beginning to end through technology with the use of our bodies. Their white color speaks to the purity of the translations of these facial expressions and muscle signals. Just as white is a summation of all colors, these works represent a summation of the emotional, psychological, intellectual, and the physical–the abstract and the tangible.  These sculptures represent a new set of signifiers with a new image that has a direct link to our body's reactions to these feelings and emotions, to what is signified— in this case, marvel. These works, thus, become a visual representation of our physical, emotional, and psychological beings.  

In addition to these sculptures, Splan used the data to create jacquard loom woven tapestries. These were also fabricated via a computer. She provided the digital files to a tapestry company to produce the artwork. From a distance, the tapestries appear to be patterns in mostly shades of gray. Upon closer inspection, one realizes the threads are black, white, red, green, yellow, and blue. Just like the lines created by the thread, the perceived color varies in shades of gray. This, in a way, shows that expressions and the electric signals created by them are both simple and direct—like white or black—and complex—like shades of gray—and can be translated intricately like our thoughts and emotions. Furthermore, the patterns are rhythmic and delicate, depicting movement and change echoing the beauty of a fleeting experience. They in turn, not only are signifiers illustrating wonder, but they also inspire awe as you stare at them.

Splan’s artworks provide a historic image of a specific moment in time, a moment which is marked by feelings to a specific experience. Therefore, these artworks provide a new vocabulary to manifest our feelings and emotions. 

Laura Splan's work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally in venues such as the Museum of Arts & Design (New York, NY), Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, OR), Beall Center for Art + Technology (Irvine, CA), and Jönköpings County Museum(Jönköping, Sweden). Commissioned projects for her work have included soap residue paintings for the Center for Disease Control, computerized lace doilies the Gen Art New Media Art Exhibition, and 3D printed sculptures for Davidson College. Her work is included in the collections of the Thoma Art Foundation, Institute for Figuring, and the UC San Francisco Infectious Disease Department.  She received a Jerome Foundation Grant for research at venues including the Wellcome Museum (London, UK) and La Specola (Florence, IT). She has been awarded artist residencies at Vermont Studio Center and ACRE, and fellowships at Byrdcliffe and Kala Art Institute. Splan has spoken widely at a variety of venues including University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA), California College of Art, New York Academy of Sciences, and The Center for Human-Computer Interaction (Austria). She has been a visiting lecturer at Stanford University, Mills College, University of Maine, and Illinois State University. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Manifest is curated by Katherine Meehan, Manager of the NYU Langone Art Program and Collection.

The NYU Langone Art Program and Collection integrates artwork varying in subject and medium into the healing environments of our new and recently renovated facilities. Conceived by Vicki Match Suna AIA, vice dean and senior vice president for Real Estate Development and Facilities, the program is built through acquisitions, commissions, exhibitions, and donations of art, as well as through other visual arts-related programming. The collection features a diverse portfolio of works: paintings, sculptures, installation art, and murals.