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Art, physics professors to present at TED talks

October 31, 2013

O'Brien, an assistant professor of art and art history at University of Wisconsin-Stout, has been asked to create the central artwork, a sculpture, for the Friday, Nov. 8, TEDxPeachtree conference in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, physics assistant professor Matt Kuchta will talk about the science of sand at a TED youth event Saturday, Nov. 16, in New Orleans.

TED stands for technology, entertainment, design. The popular nonprofit TED events bring together "the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers," according to www.ted.com.

TED began in 1984 and has become a social phenomenon, expanding to include videos, TED Fellows, the TED Prize and other efforts aimed at fulfilling its mantra, "Ideas worth spreading."

Kelly O'BrienArt on stage

TED conferences are recognized worldwide, all the more reason O'Brien is excited to be part of the annual Atlanta event, expected to draw 2,500 people to the Buckhead Theatre. Speaker topics include the neuroscience of behavior, garbage art and urban farming.

The conference's speakers will share stage space with O'Brien's sculpture, meaning that her work will have maximum exposure that day and possibly beyond in TED online videos.

"It's an honor," said O'Brien, in her first semester at UW-Stout. "I saw a TED talk for the first time in graduate school. I never thought I would be part of one."

O'Brien teaches sculpture, 3D design and drawing in the School of Art and Design.

O'Brien's challenge is to design an 8-foot-long sculpture and in one day build and install it on stage in Atlanta. Shortly after the conference is over, she has to take it down.

She is an abstract sculptor whose works blend art history and contemporary art. The one she has in mind for TED will resemble a bulging 3D painting, with bright colors, globs of paint and fabric.

"I want to blend the stage into the audience, with color spreading ideas, melting off the stage into the viewer's realm like the ideas themselves. I'm really into blurring the lines of art," O'Brien said. "I want it to be playful. Visually I want it to be fun."

Traditional forms of sculpture often are permanent. O'Brien's works are ephemeral.

"My work is site-specific. I'm reacting to a place and responding to the space. My sculptures are not permanent. I want to make people think about spaces they may take for granted," she said.

An 8-foot–long installation will limit her ability to be creative, she said. She has created sculptures, for example, the size of a billboard.

O'Brien came to UW-Stout from Atlanta, where she was affiliated with Dashboard Co-Op. Dashboard uses art installations to "show the potential" of empty commercial or industrial space, she said. TED in Atlanta approached Dashboard about a sculpture, and Dashboard recommended O'Brien.

For more information on O'Brien's art, go to her website.

Matt KuchtaThe science of sand

Kuchta will present a six-minute talk called "Sand Science" at the TEDYouth 2013 Conference in New Orleans. He will discuss what sand is, how it is formed and why sand castles stand up.

About 400 high school students are expected at the Civic Theater, and the conference will be webcast live from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Kuchta was invited to present based upon his slow-motion educational videos, which can be found on his blog, Research at a Snail's Pace.

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