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.

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

yulia pinkusevich

Are you a digital native or digital immigrant?

Digital Immigrant

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

POLYSCAPE is a project that comments on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex. This floating island of ocean debris is primarily made of plastic and is estimated to be 100 million tons in mass and twice the size of Texas, located in the Pacific Ocean between China and California.

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

POLYSCAPE hopes to bring attention to this massive yet growing trash vortex and create awareness of our own relationship to plastic and water by considering human consumption of disposable plastics and the polymers long afterlife.

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

POLYSCAPE is a "floating island" that is made out of recycled polypropylene plastic, the same material used in making many plastic products such as disposable bottles and bags. The overall form of the installation is pentagonal tessellation or a pattern of interlocking shapes. The basic shape was designed in CAD then CNC milled into an aluminum mold which was then placed into a machine and injected with molten polypropylene pellets. This massive machine is called the Injection Molder. The injection molding process efficiently creates multiples using the same manufacturing process applied in industry. Once the pentagonal shapes are molded and cleaned up each piece is then assembled together. This is done by hand, linking each piece with aluminum rings using needle nose pliers. This is a painstakingly long and repetitive process and can be compared to knitting or crocheting. The end result creates a blanket like tessellated polymer fabric. This assembled poly-fabric is then suspended from the ceiling with monofilament or heavy duty fishing line. Certain monofilament lines attach to a motor which upon activation moves the fabric such that it undulates mimicking the motion of water. The motor is activated by an infrared sensor which feels the presence of people, thus POLYSCAPE undulates only if humans are present.

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?

When I am developing a concept I search the web for inspiration and collect many reference images. I search for artist working in similar mediums or with similar ideas, I also look at architectural structures, mathematical patterns, ancient mosaics, various tessellations, etc. This particular project was complex to execute and took over 15 months to develop and complete. I have many photos documenting the initial models and machetes, the CNC mold making process and injection molding process. I also have images of various stages of POLYSCAPE in progress, along with a video I made showing its motion. The video can be found here and images can be found at

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

I approach brainstorming for a new project in several ways, though each project has its unique methodology. When developing an idea I close my eyes and try to "see" a vision of it in my mind. At first the vision is hazy and hard to understand logically, it generally comes in parts or as an “Aha” moment. As time passes and I spend more time thinking about the concept the vision is clearer. I then better understand what I want to create, and at this point I try to make several studies/ sketches of the form as a way to clarify and hold on to that vision. I also search the web and library for other people who have similar approaches in their work. I also talk to friends & teachers about the concept to hear others input. I find that having to explain your ideas to others helps define what it is you actually want to make.

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

I generally work through iteration, so when in the initial stages of the design phase I draw the project over and over, I doodle in my sketchbook, I think of it when I am driving or have alone time, in this way art is a full time job and the process is always with you even when you aren't physically making anything. This iterative process helps the project evolve significantly from a vague image in my mind to something real and tangible, something I can make. Drawing it or making models helps me consider many technical aspects of how to actually make this work. For me this planning process can be compared to incubating an egg. You have to give the idea time to develop in your mind. I find that from the initial idea the project often evolves and changes significantly throughout the design phase.

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?

I like to make drawings as well as models or machetes of the sculpture to help me visualize it in three dimensions. I purchase material samples and test them to better understand the materials properties, I find that reading about something isn’t enough, I am a visual person and need to see and touch it to best understand how I could use it and what techniques may or may not work. I always give myself twice the amount of time I estimate a task will take, as there are always unforeseen problems in the making process. For the POLYSCAPE project I made several drawings, first on paper then digitizing that drawing into photoshop to play with size, scale and installation. I also made a 3D print of the part as well as made a test mold out of a Delrin a hard density foam which is easy to machine and is relatively inexpensive. Once the test mold was done I poured wax into it by hand to make a wax impression of the part to get a better sense of scale and texture. I had access to equipment through Stanford University but be resourceful and think outside the box, there are many easy and inexpensive ways to create amazing things with everyday materials.

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 did a lot of research and learned many new skills for this project. Including CAD (Computer Aided Design) learning the basics of a program called Solidworks. I learned how to use and program a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Mill. I had to learn about two part mold design and making as well as electronic circuitry and a coding language used to program Arduinos. I asked many people for help and could not have done it without them. Throughout this process I had many failed attempts at all these things. Like I said before, always give yourself at least twice the amount of time, money, and energy you think it will take to execute a task. There is a lot of troubleshooting especially when you are unfamiliar with a technical process or new to a machine or technology.

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?

I had many versions designed of my motion mechanism. I am a analog maker, used to the old school hands on approach. So if I cannot see it work then I don't trust that it will, even if all the engineering calculations say it will work I want to see it and understand it visually. Thus I always test everything in my studio before hand. I do not have a standard approach to testing, its much more flexible because I am a visual artist and not an engineer. I assemble it hang it, plug it in and test it, relying on intuition and real time feedback over mathematics. For example, with Polyscape, I rigged it up and suspend the sculpture to see how it hung, how it moved, if I didn’t like it, I took it down, modified it, then rigged it up again and tested it, again and again. I also build smaller prototypes of the mechanisms to see how it looks and functions. For me aesthetics and design are just as important if not more important than the mechanics. Form and function need to be seamless.What can you share about the process of success and failure inherent in the test and evaluation phase?

As is true for science, when making art, failures are important. Art is often as much about the failures as the successes, and failures will generally outnumber success. But failure is good. When things fail, they help us identify problems, identify a different starting point, or choose a different method. Too often, if a particular approach succeeds then alternative approaches are never tried. Failure allows us to approach a project from multiple angles and choose which one works best.

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?

My aluminum mold failed me when I started to make injection molded parts in bulk. I had several frustrating days where nothing I made was right luckily I had a few extra days allotted for failure. It was discouraging but I was relentlessly persistent exploring all possible avenues to solve the problem. I ended up going to a local injection molding manufacturing plant. Paying them to make parts for me, they tested my mold in their bigger and better machines and their head machinist realized I did not have sufficient air vents designed in my mold which did not allow the air to escape out when the plastic was being injected in. That is why my parts were not filling properly. It took professionals with years of experience to realize this, I would have never figures out the problem on my own. This was a costly setback but also a valuable lesson. Another failure I faced with POLYSCAPE was with the kinetic mechanism and motor. I tested about 10 different kinds of motors and worked out 3 different designs for the kinetics until I found one that worked for me. This particular setback was difficult and especially discouraging because I was already out of my comfort zone as I did I not know anything about electronics but I never made anything kinetic before. I revised my design for the kinetics many times before settling on a very simple one. This failure was difficult and I overcame it thanks to a good friend of mine who is a brilliant engineer names Santhi Elayaperumal, she was a critical part in helping me with the electronics and testing the motors. Without her I couldn’t have done it on my own. I learned an important lesson though this, that you don't have to do it all yourself.

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

A criteria that I use in my work is simple. I pose myself the question “If I saw this (my own) project in a gallery or a museum would I like it ?” This seems very simple and you would think the obvious answer would be yes, but when I first asked myself this question I realized the answer was “no.” Which forced me to make a list of the types of works I was drawn to and why. Then I re-evaluated my work and aesthetic as an artist. Evaluating yourself is an ongoing process. I find that my opinion of my work changes a lot through the making process. There are such hi’s and low’s. After I finish a piece I often have a kind of post partum depression. I feel that so much time and effort went into this all for this! I tend to be very self critical and see things I want to change or improve. Then as times passes I feel better, it helps to get lots of positive responses from the audience.The imperfections is something I learn to live with because in order to actually realize a piece one has let things be, to listen to the work and allow it to go in the direction it wishes, which is not always what you intended for the project. In those moments of total unsureness the best discoveries are made. Allow yourself to play and experiment. Even if the end result is a failure the experiment may lead you to your greatest discoveries. I like to challenge myself in my work and never repeat what I already know. For me, the best part of making art is discovering something new.

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?

As you see the process of art can be difficult, frustrating and disappointing at times. The best part is when you share your work with the public and you witness someone else who gets it! When I see a persons face light up, when they see the work, all the memories of failure and frustration melt away, in the end it’s worth the pain and frustration if the reward is making someone else feel inspired.

Yes, collaboration was needed, because the projects require skills from different areas. However, DPrime is founded on collaboration and community. We feel strongly that the point of our work is to share, and that thinking about things from different vantage points results in richer, more powerful artwork. We do this not just by working on one project together, but by creating connections between our projects, this forces us to find new ways to collaborate and push our projects further.

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

Yes, as I mentioned previously there were many people who helped me with this project. My partner Brian G. Vifian is integral part in my working process. He helps me work through ideas, lends a second set of eyes and hands when I need it and is never pushy about his methodology but generous in his advice. I find it very helpful to run my ideas by him for when I have tunnel vision he is able to see things in a new light. Also Santhi Elayaperumal was a huge help with this project, she programmed the sensors and the motor and helped me overcome my fear of electronics. Craig Milroy my engineering professor at Stanford was also a big part of the initial design phase. He pushed me to think beyond my initial limitations by restructuring my typical way of working. I have a lot of respect and gratitude to these three people and many others, of which there are too many to mention.

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 am a visual artist and always loved to make things with my hands. I grew up in part in New York City and because I spent so much of my life in an urban environment I fell in love with architecture. to me that was the ultimate art form. Something that touches all people not a select few who visit museums or galleries. For a brief time in my life I thought I wanted to be an architect but after exploring the profession further I realized that I did not want to be an architect per se, but I wanted to acquire the tools of an architect in order to make multi faceted installations and public art. I entered graduate school with the intention of being an artist but integrating design and architectural skills into my work. POLYSCAPE is my the first project which achieves this hybridization.

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

In 5th and 6th grade I was lucky enough to attend to The Computer School in NYC. A public school with an inclination towards science and technology. There I learned to code in LOGOWriter made basic websites and programed simple motorized Lego structures. This was memorable and great fun, plus this gave me a real sense of achievement as a young kid. But by high school I lost all of those skill because we relocated to New Jersey and I changed schools. What I think schools need more of now is hands on projects which teach kids problem solving skills. Project that involve team work and have no “right” answer. Allowing kids to use their hands to create something gives them a tremendous amount of skills in many subjects, plus kids feel a sense of pride and ownership in their work and see endless possibilities with solving new problems and taking something they know nothing about. I think schools desperately lack this in their curriculum, test prep teaches none of this. Project based curriculum doesn’t need to be based in art. I taught kids math by building geodesic domes out of newspaper. The children loved it and they learned all about geometry, structural integrity, history and architecture. Utilizing teamwork and problem solving skills they built a great big structure which they were so proud of.  Their underserved underperforming children in Albuquerque had the principal come and congratulate them in class! Many subjects can be taught in similar ways by engaging more than just memorization skills. As a teacher a maker and a woman this is a big concern of mine and I am glad to see that someone else cares!

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

I think POLYSCAPE is the most sophisticated multi-faceted project I have created to date. It helped me gain confidence and show the world that I can take on larger projects and work with advancing technologies. I think it has opened the door for further development in this field and gives me the confidence to pursue more even more complex projects. Pushing what I am able to achieve both as an artist and an individual.

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?

Art and science is very similar in methodology. A lot of the process is about having an idea, testing the idea, noting the results, and seeing if the experiment was successful. After being exposed to scientist and engineers at Stanford University I realize we have so much in common.

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 think scientist can benefit from artist by allowing a bit more creative problem solving into their labs, by taking more risks and not worrying about their colleagues opinions as much. Artist can learn from scientist by being more structured and rigorous in their methodology and approaches to art. By conducting more studies and adding more research components to their practice. I think the lines are blurring more and more.

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

YES of course I think art is important. Art is vital to a flourishing culture. Many great technological and scientific discoveries came out of artistic experimentation. Many early pioneers of technology were artists. Art is important for brain development, critical thinking, and cultural evolution. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing more art curriculum in education. I hate to see kids be so discouraged by art because they think they “can’t draw” all kids can draw, then at some point someone tells them they aren’t good at it and they lose their courage or have not been exposed to art enough. Everyone should have some creative outlet for their emotional and intellectual pursuits, the world would be a better place.