Nina Waisman named artist-in-residence with SETI Institute
UCSD-trained artist to collaborate with scientists looking for life elsewhere
By James Chute, December 18, 2014

Artist Nina Waisman, a UC San Diego graduate whose “Orange We” is a centerpiece of the New Children’s Museum’s “Feast” exhibition, has been named artist-in-residence with the SETI Institute.

Based in Silicon Valley, the SETI Institute has a mission to “explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.” It has associations with numerous government, science and technology enterprises, ranging from the NASA Ames Research Center to Google.

Waisman, who also studied at the New York City Ballet’s School of Ballet and Harvard University, focuses on the relationship between movement and thought in her work.

In the words of SETI: “Her interactive installations question intelligence: What are its methods, its forms, its time spans, its many channels of communication? How is it altered by environment, and by new technologies?”

In an email, Waisman described her aspirations for her work at SETI.

"A key question in my mind and in SETI's research is the question of intelligence - in this light, I'm thinking a lot about the idea of 'as below, so above'. For example, 'simple' actions such as single-cell irritability accumulate and combine in our bodies to produce what we recognize as desires, ideas, abilities; additionally, the microbes we host in our bodies (at a 10-to-1 ration of microbes to human cells) are driving our 'intelligent' behavior and evolution to a much greater extent than we might think.

"Maybe communication among microbes, cells, and even sub-atomic particles supply the critical intelligence in the cosmos - maybe our ways of thinking, moving, clustering and evolving, are primarily reflections of behaviors modeled by small players 'below'. Maybe a search for extraterrestrial intelligence can benefit from speculating about the kinds of intelligence exchanged at the micro-levels I'm describing.

"I'm expecting that the research I engage in at SETI will blow my mind, and then re-settle it over time along paths and materials that will add up to provocative art experiences, based on what I've learned by dialoguing and/or collaborating with these esteemed scientists."

SETI started the artist-in-residence program in 2011 with artist Charles Lindsay, a Guggenheim Fellow who remains with SETI as the artist-in-residence program leader. The effort has also involved artists Martin Wilner, Danny Bazo, Karl Yerkes and Marko Peljhan.

“SETI Institute’s research is motivated by our primal interest in other life and other beings,” said senior astronomer Seth Shostak. “It’s a very human endeavor. And so is art, after all it’s one of the things that distinguishes us from every other life form on this planet. Art is the one thing that’s unique about our world. The one thing that ET doesn’t already have. Well, she may have art, but not our kind of art! There’s a natural synchrony here.”

According to SETI, the artists-in-residence perform “public colloquia at the Institute, exhibitions at major cultural institutions, web, TV and radio networking and social media.”

Besides “Orange We,” Waisman’s most recent work includes “‘Til You Drop,” a collaboration with Thomas Lawson and Flora Wiegmann commissioned by the non-profit art space LA X ART.

Image Credit:
Artist Nina Waisman. Photo: Pablo Mason

For more information about Nina visit