Artist takes on nanotechnology and privacy

Like me, perhaps you normally prefer more traditional art: oil paintings, perhaps. But new art can have an important societal purpose beyond its aesthetic value, and artist Nina Waisman has taken on a key nanotech issue to raise in her work: the relation between nanotechnology, sensing, and privacy. From SignOnSanDiego:

If airport security were run by Fellini (right now, Kafka’s the boss), it might feel a little like walking through Nina Waisman’s whimsical, neuron-stirring “Nano 2.0.”

That’s the working title for an intricate and inventive sound installation that Waisman exhibits in Berlin next month as part of “Particles of Interest: Tales From the Matter Markets,” a collaborative work about nanotechnology.

The UCSD-based artist and master’s candidate teamed with Diane Ludin, Ricardo Dominguez and Tristan Shone on “Particles” (, which explores the conflicts between commerce and privacy raised by nanotech – the science of working with tissue and other matter at a molecular level.

Impertinent bursts of air greet a visitor at the entrance to Waisman’s installation, set up in a UCSD studio for testing before the trip to Berlin. Farther in, sensors pick up the interloper’s presence, cooing nanotech terms (“halogenated fullerenes,” “carbon nanotubes”) like chapter titles to some geek’s dream of a Harlequin romance.

The artist says:

“I’m trying to use the sound in a way that’s both seductive and a little bit aggressive. Because the technology is seductive. It can make us feel almost godlike.”

I would make one correction: the main nanosurveillance conflict isn’t between commerce and privacy, but between misbehaving governments and freedom. Governments can be much more troublesome than companies trying to sell us things.

For me, an essay or book would communicate nanosurveillance ideas better, but for many others, having an artist attempt to get the ideas across is more effective. Thanks, Nina! —Christine

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