CLEFT: An Art and Engineering Collaboration

Tuesday, October 5, 7 – 8pm, Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture & streamed via YouTube

 Are we becoming an extension of the machine or the other way around?

Artist Annet Couwenberg posed this question as she began a unique collaboration in Fall 2020 with UMBC engineering students led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tim Topoleski with the assistance of software developer and engineer Alan Grover to create her interactive sculpture Cleft. Join us for a lively conversation with Annet Couwenberg, Alan Grover, Dr. Topoleski, and participating student Myles McVey to learn more about the process behind Cleft’s creation, which will be on view in her exhibition Annet Couwenberg: Sewing Circles at the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture at UMBC in Fall 2021. The conversation will be moderated by Lori Rubeling, curator of the exhibition and Professor of Art and Communication Design at Stevenson University.

Annet Couwenberg, Cleft, 2016

Cleft (2016-21) is based on a Dutch ruffled collar as an example of a piece of clothing acting as both a constraint and a beautiful enhancement. Based on the concept of clothing as metaphor, the work examines the precarious balance between the constraints of social norms and our private desires. There is an intertwined yet conflictual relationship between immigration and citizenship, a state of anxiety that defines our contemporary condition. By putting the audience in charge as the “digital puppeteer,” Cleft explores the untangling of this conflict between self-determination and dependency through the syntax of the body, and the boundaries of our social interactions through computer software, which translates our ‘movements’.


Born in the Netherlands, Annet Couwenberg received MFA degrees from Cranbrook Academy of Art and Syracuse University. She received a Smithsonian Artist and Research Fellowship in 2014. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including at Gyeonggi MOMA (Ansan, Korea), HOMA Museum (Seoul, Korea), Museum of Arts and Design (NYC), Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts (Wilmington, DE), 28th Street Studio (NYC), Contemporary Museum (Baltimore, MD), City Gallery (Atlanta, GA), Decorative Arts Museum (Little Rock, AR), Textile Museum (Tilburg, NL). Her work has been reviewed widely, including in Le Monde, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Baltimore Sun, The Atlanta Constitution, Philadelphia Inquirer, Fiberarts, Surface Design, The Journal of Cloth and Culture and Sculpture Magazine. Telos Art Publishing published a monograph on her work in 2003.

Lori Rubeling has been collaborating and teaching art and design curricula with communities and a variety of educational institutions for over 30 years. Her expertise in design education is entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary when collaborating with communities as they seek to research, prototype, test or implement communication programs or design projects. Community clients include Carroll Mansion, Case[werks] Gallery and Showroom, D Center Baltimore, Irvine Nature Center, the Northeast Regional Honors Council, North Charles Business Committee, SHAG: Society for History and Graphics, and Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

Dr. L.D. Timmie Topoleski is a Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UMBC. His research interests are to understand fundamental mechanisms of material behavior, and use that understanding to create new materials to solve problems based on materials performance and longevity.  His work is focused on biomaterials: both materials that are manufactured to be implanted in the human body, and understanding human tissues as materials.



Alan Grover has been a professional programmer for far too long, on too many platforms. He currently practices in the open-source world. In recent years, he has been a technical assistant to a few artists, and for classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).