Art and science collide in Daniel Land's video work at the Michigan Science Center

Daniel Land is an accomplished young filmmaker. Since directing his first feature when he was just 18, Land's work has appeared in the Detroit Institute of Arts, where he and collaborator Gabriel Hall (director/CEO of New D Media Arts, the company of which Land is creative director) brought Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry" mural to life using a technique called projection mapping. The pair's work has also appeared behind some of the most notable electronic musicians in the world at the Movement Electronic Music Festival, where they live-mix video during performances. Last year, the 32-year-old College for Creative Studies graduate was named a Kresge Artist Fellow.
Some of Land's most interesting work, however, has appeared not in an art museum or at a music festival, but in a science museum.
It was at the Michigan Science Center in April 2014 that Land hosted Detroit's installment of the World Space Party in conjunction with Art X, a 10-day arts festival sponsored by the Kresge Foundation. Utilizing video projection mapping, Land animated the Science Center's 1/10-scale replicas of the Saturn V rocket and the Space Shuttle Endeavor, recreating the cycle of a mission to space all within the friendly confines of the main hall of the Midtown museum.
The museum was packed all night, the line to get in wrapping around the block.
The World Space Party is a vast network of events held in cities around the world during the week of April 12 to commemorate the first human space flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Land first attended one at NASA's Ames Research Center in San Francisco in 2007.
"It was essentially a burner (a member of the Burning Man community) party on a NASA base," Land recalls. "There were burners, artists, club kids, and NASA engineers all hanging out. It was very moving to see this diverse group of people mingling to celebrate the first flight of a human in space. I loved this idea of partying for science. Here was something worth celebrating."
When Land got home, he checked the world map of space parties on, the official website of the World Space Party, but didn't see his hometown. "It seemed wrong that Detroit wasn't on the map," he says. So he got to work, and in 2010 Land hosted Detroit's first official World Space Party event at the Burton Theater in Midtown. Since then the event has grown, and the Science Center has proven to be an ideal location thanks to its scale models, its planetarium, and its overall vibe as a place of exploration and discovery.
On Oct. 24, Land and Hall will be displaying work again at the Michigan Science Center for Colorosity, the nonprofit's "annual science soiree." Not only will Land re-create his Space Party installation, but he and Hall also plan to animate the skeleton of Sue, the most complete, best preserved skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, which will be on display at the Michigan Science Center starting on Saturday, Oct. 17.
"When I heard that Sue was coming to the Science Center, the little boy in me was like, 'Yes! Of course I want to work with the T. rex skeleton,'" says Land.
It's an ambitious project. He and the team at New D Media Arts, plan on animating the skeleton's shadow and using the screen behind it to set different tones, which will be inspired in part by the colorful work of Timothy Orikri, the Michigan Science Center's artist-in-residence.
"It's hard to describe this stuff. It's something you have to see," says Land.
Sue presents challenges that Land and his collaborators have not encountered in other projection mapping installations. Sue's skeleton, which consists of over 250 bones, lacks flat surfaces and has many gaps and cavities, requiring extreme precision to make the installation work.
"You need to have an exact computer model of the skeleton," Land says. "You're definitely working on an engineering level. There are all kinds of calculations and adjustments we're making all of the time."
It is here where science becomes a part of Land's work, not just its subject. "These things are not mutually exclusive," he says. "Art and science co-mingle in everyday life."
Art and science will be co-mingling at Colorosity, which takes place on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 6-11 p.m. The evening will highlight the science of color through new programs and interactive art and design activities. Proceeds from Colorosity, which features a strolling dinner and colorful drinks, will benefit the Michigan Science Center's education and outreach programs. General tickets are $125 for adults and $50 for kids. VIP tickets are $200 for adults and $75 for kids. For more information, click here.
Model D's coverage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in southeast Michigan is supported in part by the Michigan Science Center. Read other stories in our STEM Hub series here.
Matthew Lewis is Model D's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjlew.
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Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative.