Measuring the Human Heart Through Art and Science

Jiayi Young

Spring 2016 – That Jiayi Young mines scientific resources in her artwork shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the assistant professor of design has a master’s degree in atomic physics as well as a master of fine arts degree. What might be surprising is how very emotional her art is.

One of her most ambitious is “Message in the Sky,” a crowd-sourced, participatory public art project, mounted in Dubai and at the Joshua Tree National Monument with plans to take it around the globe. It allows participants to cast their hopes and dreams into the sky literally and symbolically.

“I started it during the height of the recession when neighbors and friends were losing jobs and homes,” Young said. “It creates a platform for people to share their aspirations, feeling and emotions, to see how our dreams are similar and different, and to know we are not alone in our struggles.”

Young has used data provided by a beating human heart to create three-dimensional images depicting just how complicated that beat, beat, beat really is. The modeling gained the attention of cardiologists and also spoke to how the heart embodies so many aspects of being a human.

“Your heartbeat is so much a part of who you are,” said Young, who came to UC Davis in 2015.

With data collected from migrating sea animals and the water temperature where they were swimming, she created a sound environment piece.

“These would ultimately be part of an immersive installation where the audience would rely on wearable devices to experience a visual and audible environment that reflects the diversity and abundance of life in the oceans,” she said.

Young’s work has been shown internationally, including at the Chinese Biennial in Beijing, Cyberfest at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the International Symposium of Electronic Arts in Singapore. She’s also been an active participant in the Sacramento and Davis art communities for a decade.

Mixing art and science comes naturally to her.

“I’ve just always had an interest in both areas,” said Young, a native of China who moved to the U.S. when she was a teenager.

For Young, what’s just as important as melding art and science is having the audience as participants in making the art.

“I’m never satisfied with people just looking at my work,” she said. “It’s more of a co-creative process.”

— Jeffrey Day