Here students and teachers can explore the STEM concepts and skills found in the artists work. The STEM Concept tool provides a basic definition of a key concept in Science, Math or Engineering and suggests possible ways it has been applied or illustrated in each artist's work. It also includes artist tips and views on STEM for a personal perspective on the STEM + Art connections.

Alyce Santoro
What is your name and where are you from? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Alyce Santoro, and I am an interdisciplinary conceptual and sound artist with degrees in both art and science. I worked as an oceanographic research assistant for several years while earning a graduate degree in scientific illustration. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to make art about science...though now I use lots of mediums aside from drawing (such as sound, video, sculpture, and writing) in my "illustrations".

Are you a digital native or digital immigrant?

Digital immigrant.

What is the purpose behind your ISEA2012 piece and what inspired you?

Most of my work is inspired, in some way, by my background in science. In the case of "The Universal Raisin Cake Theory", a passage from "Peterson's Field Guide to the Stars and Planets" compares the expansion of the universe to a giant loaf of raisin bread rising struck a chord with me. The idea that the entire universe can be explained using something as simple and commonplace as bread is, to me, a great example of how to make science not only accessible and comprehensible, but quite literally digestible as well!

What do you hope an audience takes away from this piece? 

I refer to many of my works as "philosoprops", or props that can be used as a catalyst for discussion or thought on a range of scientific and philosophical topics. I hope that after contemplating the text contained on this "book" - in the form of a box of cake mix - audiences will feel a sense of awe and wonder at the complexity of our universe and our inherent interconnectedness with it.

How is your medium or technique unique? How have you integrated, adapted or recombined STEM components to create something innovative?

What is the definition of a book? Must a book have pages, or even words? Here I have created a book in the form of a box - it looks like something you'd be more likely to find a grocery store than in a library. I am constantly thinking about ways to liberate science from laboratories and textbooks, and about how science can be expressed as something wonderful that is all around you as part of your everyday life.

What would you suggest as a STEM activity or resource for a student that would like to explore the type of work that you do?

the "Universal Raisin Cake Theory" piece is here: research the concept of "social sculpture": my creative process is outlined in this piece: here's a video of myself giving advice and words of encouragement to RISD students: my website: as far as "The Universal Raisin Cake Theory" project is concerned, students can research "artists' books": how to make an 8-page book out of one sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper:

Can you share your methods for brainstorming and how you get your ideas?

Many years ago, I attended a reading by the poet Allen Ginsberg. During the course of the evening he gave out two related pieces of advice, both of which have become integral parts of my creative practice. First, "NOTICE WHAT YOU NOTICE". Next, "WHEN THE MUSE CALLS, ANSWER." In other words, when you get a flash of inspiration - which may arrive when you least expect it, like when reading, walking, in the shower, during conversations with friends, or while you are lying awake at night in bed - it is your job as to take notice, and write it down! Ideas are like dreams that you remember vividly when you first wake up, but then they suddenly disappear - you feel like it would be impossible to forget...and then they are gone. Always carry a small book in which to write down your ideas. If you find a bottle cap, pebble, or twig on the street that inspires you, PICK IT UP! Start a collection of things that inspire you. These are your clues - they will tell you where to begin!

Once you had your idea how did you approach the phase of designing and planning for its realization?

"The Universal Raisin Cake Theory" began with drawings, and by actually baking a loaf of bread, of which I took photographs. At the time I had access to a silkscreen and letterpress printing shop, and so I made the first copies by hand using processes that were accessible to me. It wasn't until years later that I received a grant to print more copies of the "book" using offset printing - at that point I was able to create an edition of 1000.

Did you build a model or prototype for this piece? if so, how did you decide what to make it out of and can you describe the process?

First I took apart a box of cake mix and traced it. Then I sketched out the idea for the book using very basic materials (scissors to cut up my drawings and photographs, glue, pencils, and a large sheet of paper). Next I found higher-quality paper to print the first edition on, and made silkscreens, and printed using letterpress (wooden and metal hand-set type). I created many experimental copies of the book before receiving the grant to have the final version printed at a professional printshop.

Did this piece require doing research and if so can you share why it is important and how you go about it? Is there any advice you can offer about this phase?

I am extremely interested in quantum- and astrophysics, and read extensively on these subjects. I have gathered information for "The Universal Raisin Cake Theory" project from visits to observatories and science museums. This project also required research on breads used in various traditions around the world.

How did you test and evaluate your design? For example, did it work the first time or were there many versions before the final one? Do you have standard ways of testing your work?

Most of my projects evolve over the course of time - ideas develop, skills improve, new technologies come into being - at which point I don't hesitate to re-craft the piece. Initial tests for "The Universal Raisin Cake Theory" project began in 2001, with the current incarnation printed in 2005. If resources to reprint a future edition come along, there are things that I will change to improve the design.

The test and evaluate phase is where we confront our limitations and “failures”. Often we prefer not to talk about them because we are encouraged to only talk about our successes. What can you share with students about the process of “success and failure” that emerges in the test and evaluation phase?

I don't think of things at all in terms of success and failure. Everything is a process - If a project doesn't work out on the first try, I simply build on what I've discovered, and apply that information to whatever new direction I take. Many ideas require sketches, models, and discussions with friends and colleagues before they are "honed" enough to move into the tangible phase. Some projects take an hour to complete, some may require years of contemplation and revision.

What criteria did you use to evaluate your piece, or your work in general?

Since much of my work is concept-based, I must ask myself how clearly my message is getting across, and whether I was able to convey it in a streamlined, elegant, well-crafted fashion. Sometimes the answers to these questions only arrive after the piece has had time to be digested by an audience, and I receive their feedback. This is not to say that I necessarily make work "for" an audience - but, since the purpose of my work is to communicate ideas, it is pointless without one.

What do you get from sharing your work with others? This question addresses the greater question of why we create art in the first place? What is its role in society? Why is it important for us to create and share art?

Like the artist Joseph Beuys, I believe that creative practice (including infusing everyday activities with creativity in general) has the capacity to shape and improve our communities and society at large. I also believe that sharing of information and pooling of ideas and resources is critical to the future health of our planet - the environmental and social problems we currently face are too big to be solved by one person alone. My own work is intended to create connections between those from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, and to spark dialog around philosophical and scientific concepts - truly, it is the resulting dialog that is the most important part of the work.

Did you have to collaborate to realize this piece? If so why? Is there anything you would like to share about the collaboration process?

The making of this particular piece required collaboration in the form of the funding I received from Women's Studio Workshop to complete it, as well as interaction with the printer who ultimately realized my vision for the finished product. The installation in Albuquerque (thanks to ISEA2012!) is the first time the piece will have interactive elements - giant raisin/galaxy pillows that the audience will be invited to imagine themselves floating through the gallery on. These pillows are being constructed by a friend who is much better at sewing than I am. It's hard for me to imagine ANY project that doesn't contain at least some inspiration, influence, or input from others in one form or another.

Is there anything else about your creative process that you would like to share? Perhaps we missed an important part of your creative process.

I tend to work in a variety of mediums, depending on the message I am trying to convey. Sound, video, drawing, sculpture, text - any or all of these elements can be found in my work. I often use salvaged objects or cast-off materials, not only because I appreciate the opportunity to recycle, but because found materials are generally the most affordable kind of art supplies. The less money one has to spend one expenses, the more time one has to make art!

Do you come from a STEM background or an Arts background? What is the STEM skill or concept that inspired or formed this piece, or your work in general?

I have a background in both science and art. I knew during high school that I wanted to make art about science, and so went to college for marine biology as an undergraduate, then worked as a research assistant while getting an advanced degree in scientific illustration. Since then, my work has become increasingly multi-media, but my intent is still the same - to convey the magic and mystery of the natural world through art.

Has working with science and technology improved your professional career or life and if so how?

There is no question that my background in science has given me a deeper appreciation and understanding of the complexity of our world from a physical - biological, chemical, and mathematical - standpoint. My science education taught me how to think critically, and how to formulate hypothesis and carry out experiments - skills which I use in my creative practice. In our rapidly-changing world, science and technology have the potential to transform or destroy us - if we wish to be active participants in making the world a healthier, more peaceful place, it's important to understand the roll that science and technology plays.

What was your experience with STEM in middle and high school and what would you change if you could?

While I excelled at art and music in high school, I was already very focused on becoming a good scientist. I was fortunate to attend a public high school that offered excellent programs in both science and art. In retrospect, I might have allowed myself to explore art history, humanities, and other electives in high school, rather than beginning to concentrate on math, physics, and chemistry so intensely prior to college. In both high school and college, I wish that my teachers had been better able to highlight the interconnectedness between subjects - no subject is entirely separate from any other (for example, using math, music, and physics to describe one another greatly enhances our understanding of each) - instead our education system tends to compartmentalize and isolate subjects in a way that does not reflect reality.

How has your creative work influenced your use of technology and/or how has technology changed how you work or the pieces you make?

For those in high school today, I suppose it may be difficult to imagine what life was like before computers. While I love to just work in the studio making things, I tend to spend much more of my day on the computer using various sound, video, and image editing software, not to mention dealing with the business of being an artist (applying for grants and other opportunities, preparing text for catalogs and shows, responding to inquiries...even such things as filling out this excellent questionnaire!). Photoshop, iMovie, Audacity, Garageband, FinalCut, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Pinterest - computers have not only made making work easier, they have made it possible to share it from anywhere - now every artist can be his or her own gallerist, publicist, and representative. We no longer need to live in cities to reach large audiences - in my case I was able to move from Brooklyn to the high desert of far west Texas.

Can you share any differences and/or similarities between artistic and scientific creativity that you may have personally explored by uniquely merging the two in your work? Or you may choose to share the more general question of what the arts and sciences have in common, or differ?

While their approaches may differ slightly, most artists and scientists are driven by a common passion for exploring the mysteries inherent in the world around us. While science attempts to place some limitations on the kind of creativity one can use (according to the scientific method, one must formulate a hypothesis, design and conduct an objective experiment, analyze the results, and be able to repeat them), a good scientist is one who thinks outside the box (consider the lives and work of Albert Einstein or Leonardo Da Vinci). A good artist is one who is able to use internally-installed laboratory equipment - eyes, ears, and other senses - to gather good data and interpret it in his or her own way. Artists are free to apply their own feelings and emotions to their work - scientists are not supposed to. Some people - including myself - are striving to create a kind of third discipline - one in which we conduct creative research into our world that is not necessarily limited by the scientific method.

How do you think artists can benefit from science / scientists? and/or visa versa, how do you think scientists/science can benefit from artistic creativity?

I believe that in order to be a good artist, one must have a solid understanding of one's subject - if one is working with the natural world, knowledge gained through science can offer this. On the other hand, scientific research can often cause the scientist to focus very intensely on his or her subject, losing sight of "the big picture" - an artist's eye can often help one to see a subject from a new and innovative perspective, and to generate novel solutions to problems.

Do you think the arts are as important as science? If so why, if not why not?

Unquestionably, art and science are equally important. The human mind is a miraculous phenomenon that is likely to possess capacities that human beings have barely begun to tap. To limit ourselves to only one way of understanding our universe is to cut ourselves off from vital parts of the experience of being alive.