Think art and biodesign don't go together? Think again. The Museum of Modern Art's BioDesign Challenge "offers art and design students the opportunity to envision future applications of biotechnology in a competition that highlights student work," according to MoMa's website. And this year, Fine Arts major Ana "Tize" Valente (C' 20) will represent Penn at the challenge's 2017 summit.
Last semester, Tize was one of three undergraduates enrolled in a Master’s level Integrated Product Design. “I was so nervous going into it, but the professor is someone I really admire," she said. "And I thought it would be an amazing experience.” Midway through the semester, Tize teamed up with Penn Engineering grad students, Angel Xiao (Bioengineering MSE '19) and Katherine Hayna (Integrated Product Design MSE '19) for a class design project.
“In the beginning stages, there were a few disagreements. At first, the other design student wanted to design something literal, while I wanted something more speculative. Sometimes, the two of us would get ahead of ourselves, and the bioengineer would have to bring us down to earth and be like ‘We can’t do that. We simply don’t have the biological knowledge or capacity to make that happen!'” she laughs.
“When it was getting close to the deadline, I would work on the project for six or seven hours a day. I felt like I really needed to prove myself, so I made sure I was pulling my weight since I had less time to commit to the project. I saw myself as the undergrad who was the weak link in the group,” Tize says.
The final class project was featured in an exhibition, which was attended by Penn faculty and judges from the MoMA BioDesign challenge. They selected Tize’s team to move forward in this year's competition.
Details cannot be disclosed (because maintaining their competitive advantage is key in the following stages of the competition), but Tize mentions that the project was aimed at exploring the more unknown areas of biology. Winning projects will be announced in June.
But Tize isn't content to rest on her laurels. “It can be overwhelming when you start feeling like you have to keep up with your latest accomplishment,” she says. Her self–constructed website, which highlights a number of projects she has designed over the years, got over 3,000 views in just three days. Tize attributes the volume of views to supportive friends who shared the page, but once you click the link, it's evident that she's being modest—her affinity for visual aesthetic carries over into web design.
Many of the projects featured online were made by Tize during her high school years. Her favorite project, “Elasticity," is an internal wire structure that uses PVC plastic, formaldehyde and chewing gum as a commentary on the process of change and the necessity of stretching or adapting to new situations. It's one of her only projects that's thematically tied to emotions.
"The idea came to me in high school during class, when my teacher was lecturing about the importance of exploring new media,” Tize says. “I was chewing gum at the time, and it just sort of came to me. I was going through kind of a hard time emotionally, and realizing the importance of elasticity in responding to life’s unforeseen obstacles seemed like a cool connection to make between the gum and my idea.”
She confesses to having exploited her younger cousin, who she coerced into chewing nearly thirteen pounds of chewing gum for the Elasticity project. “I mean, I helped a little bit, but it was pretty much all her,” Tize laughs. “Her mom called me later that night wondering if I had any idea why her daughter had a horrible stomachache. I felt so bad!”
It’s pretty often that Tize’s spur–of–the–moment thoughts manifest as remarkable artwork. A windshield wiper that paints with each stroke, a melted candle imitation of the moon and a box with UV light liquid, watercolor and resin are just a few examples of the vast array of media that Tize has manipulated to produce a powerful effect.
Tize didn't draw much of a connection between her artwork and her identity until she experienced the polarizing environment at Penn.
“On the one hand, I’ve had so many ideas that have been brought on by the classes I have taken outside of the Fine Art department, and that never would have happened if I had gone to art school. I learned practical skills in Mechanical Engineering 101 and Marketing 101,” she says. "On the other hand, creativity isn’t really something you can teach, but it is something you can practice. I feel like I have less creative thoughts at Penn just because everything moves so fast.”
Tize finds solace at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “I’m there at least once every two weeks. It feels like home to me. They try to make art really accessible with open admission on Wednesdays, and it’s great to see all kinds of different people there.”
Tize is particularly interested in the relationship between art and technology. She's taken courses in computer science and mechanical engineering and likes being able to explore these fields without getting completely immersed.
Tize hopes to one day be an Imagineer, designing rides and attractions for Disney. “But I don’t have the American visa, so that could get complicated,” she says. “Brazil is not in a great situation right now, and I am lucky enough that my family lives in a bubble and is largely unaffected, but there is a general feeling of sadness. Whenever I go back, it’s a bit of a shock.”
Tize’s childhood in Brazil was characterized by a sense of adventure and freedom that she feels is lacking at Penn. She reminisces about days spent hiking to waterfalls and visiting junkyards.
“Meanwhile at Penn, I was talking about my gum sculpture in one of my classes and and this one girl pipes up, ‘You know you could be sued because you have people’s DNA in your piece.’ That was one of the times when it just hit me, and I was like, whoa—this place is intense.”