We humans

News of the light and sweet

May 7, 2014 /
Kara Walker's sugar sculpture, "A Subtlety," 2014. Photography by Jason Wyche. Courtesy Creative Time, 2014.

A powerful bitter sweet
As race continues to dominate the news, it seems like perfect timing for artist Kara Walker’s latest piece, her first large-scale installation, housed in the shell of the old Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Shown above, the piece has a grand title:

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:
A Subtlety,
or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant

Made from sugar, the ginormous sculpture carries a bittersweet note familiar to those who’ve seen Walker’s works on paper, which take on near-taboo topics such as slavery and racism. But, as Mellody Hobson advises us, let’s talk about these issues, not pretend they’re not there. There’s no sweeping this sugar mountain under any carpet whatsoever.

Neurons. Shut ’em down
Optogenetics is a fascinating technique, in which researchers control the activity of neurons with light. (See talks by MIT’s Ed Boyden or pioneer Gero Miesenböch for a primer.) Until now, scientists had been limited to activating neurons, turning them on, but now teams at Stanford and Berlin have figured out a way to shut them off, giving new possibilities to experiments that could tell us more about the biology of our brains. “There are huge challenges to overcome,” acknowledges Susan Young Rojahn in this Technology Review piece, not least the fact that the neurons are genetically modified and need to be embedded with light-source implants. But Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is into it, describing the advance as a “powerful tool.” And it’s always wild to watch such a young branch of science figure out a new step on the way ahead.

3D printing. Not just for hobbyists any more
Aww, 3D printing was going to make everything customizable and makable, and free us all from the shackles of capitalism and consumerism, right? Now known as “additive manufacturing,” the hobby that launched a thousand random tchotchkes is becoming a strategic tool of the big players. As this Economist piece reports, companies such as General Electric, Siemens and Airbus are on board, using 3D printing and laser sintering to make parts on a new, larger scale. That sound you hear is executives rustling in their pockets to find the funds to buy up the starry-eyed little guys. GE bought Morris Technologies in 2012, while TED Fellow Bre Pettis sold MakerBot to Stratasys in 2013. (And watch for a TED Talk from Avi Reichental 3D Systems, which just added mom-and-pop food printers Sugar Lab to a portfolio that includes the mighty Invisalign, which 3D-prints 500,000 orthodontic braces a day.)

Image: Kara Walker, A Subtlety, 2014. Photography by Jason Wyche. Courtesy Creative Time, 2014.