Lab brings together the creative and calculated

Matt Wood / Senior Staff Writer

Left to their own devices in professor Ruth West’s office, the members of the xREZ art-science lab test each other on who is best at whistling. In addition to being peers and working together, it’s clear that the band of bright students in the lab work well beyond their research.

“Should we make an xREZ lab song?” one member says as the others laugh.

Songwriting isn’t exactly what the lab does — although it isn’t necessarily out of the question, either. It’s complicated.

The foundational idea for the xREZ lab begins with this premise: higher education is divided up into separate disciplines, and research and work is usually categorized into one of these schools or colleges. Psychology research, art projects and scientific studies all exist within their respective majors.

What xREZ does is takes the different points of view and ideas from multiple degrees and collaborates to take on projects that either require multiple experts or different approaches to ideas. Here, aspiring artists, psychologists, designers, scientists and students of many more disciplines can use their different vocabularies and schools of knowledge in self-generated or proposed projects.

“It’s really exciting, all the students who have chosen to be a part of the lab,” lab director  West said. “They’re inspired to do things together.”

Putting the pieces together

West oversees the xREZ lab as its director with the goal of bridging the ideas of art and science to change the way we think and approach problems. She said she stresses that in the real world you don’t just work with people in your field, and that students should become familiar with people in other disciplines. In the lab, that’s exactly what students do.

“They get to do different kinds of research and creative work, so that the art and science can come together,” she said.

Lab member Jeremy Deutsch said he feels the lab succeeds in this regard, and that the environment allows anyone to offer input on any project. The lab isn’t strictly divided into categories and members aren’t given specific roles.

“You don’t have to be an artist or a scientist to participate in the art or the science. You can be whatever you want,” Deutsch said.

West herself joined UNT in 2013 as a faculty member. She had researched the field of art-science for more than a decade when she brought her art-science lab and research to UNT. She said the faculty and students have responded positively and show great potential to keep pursuing the field of art-science. She was even named one of the “20 most interesting people in DFW” by the Dallas Observer for her work.

Along with West, there are currently about eight students active in the lab, with several more collaborators who help. The students hail from different disciplines, including music, psychology, sciences, computing and visual arts.

Members of the lab mostly heard about it through friends or word of mouth. Psychology student Max Parola heard about the lab from Deutsch.

“I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I came here,” Parola said. “But I knew that the research that was going on here was really cool and there were a bunch of opportunities that didn’t really fit in the regular schema for what research is at this university.”

Lab work in progress

The lab itself in Hickory Hall is still being put together, but operations have been ongoing throughout the construction.

West said they expect the lab to have an official opening in spring of 2015. The design for the lab is collaboration in itself, between the xREZ lab members and Gensler – a Dallas-based architecture firm.

One of the lab’s many projects is an app called “rePhoto” that allows users to take a picture from the same coordinates twice at different times, and then overlap them to create a unique image. A demonstration of the product showed an existing saved picture from 1904 overlapped with the same building now.

The app features both a bigger project use and personal use. The project centers on cataloging and photographing important places around a city, and the personal use can be used to take pictures across different seasons or the before and after for a home project.

West said that the collaborative nature of the lab grows exponentially with more members. She hopes more students hear about the lab, especially when it finishes construction.

“We want students to know this is a possibility that is available,” West said. “If you have an interest in engaging in research as well as creative work, we want them to know there’s a place where those things are happening simultaneously.”

Deutsch said that the lab has brought together friendships as well as the fields of study. He said that though the projects can be stressful and difficult, the lab provides a positive space to work in.

“The work itself might not always be as enjoyable in the moment due to difficulty,” Deutsch said. “But the lab provides an enjoyable environment to make any potentially arduous work much more manageable.”

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