Nina Rajcic is using art to investigate human-computer relationships for her PhD at Monash University’s Faculty of IT
Think you can’t combine art and a PhD in cutting-edge technology? Meet Nina Rajcic and her inspiring study and career path. Nina studied physics after high school, has worked as a data engineer – and is now combining art and tech in her PhD at Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology (IT). During the first year of her PhD, Nina created an art installation that investigates human emotions and involves poetry generated with artificial intelligence (AI).
Nina says she always liked maths and English at school, and chose to study physics as an undergraduate because “I got the impression that science would have better career prospects”.
It wasn’t until her undergrad degree at the University of Melbourne that Nina was first introduced to programming. “I quickly saw the potential of coding as a creative medium,” she says.
Nina followed up her undergrad with a master’s in theoretical particle physics and worked for a stint as a data engineer at Victorian software company Lexer.
Now she’s investigating the potential for creative collaborations between computers and humans for her PhD at Monash University.
Reflections on art and AI
One of Nina’s projects is Mirror Ritual, an interactive artwork shecompleted during the first year of her PhD at Sensilab. The work, which has been exhibited locally and internationally, applies AI-based emotion recognition technology in a mirror. The viewer sits in front of the mirror, which is also a screen on which AI-generated poetry appears, formulated based on the viewers’ perceived emotional state.
“It’s very rewarding seeing a project grow from a simple idea in my head to something people engage with, and have feelings about,” says Nina.
Whether you’re inspired by philosophy, art or theoretical physics, Nina says a foundation in technology is an increasingly powerful tool.
“I can see that coding is quickly becoming a skill that young people feel like they need to have – which is good, I think it teaches quite a rational way of thinking. At the same time it is just the medium, not really an end in itself, the more important thing to think about is what you want to do with those skills.”
Posthumanism, art and technology
Nina is completing her PhD in Sensilab, which operates under Monash’s Faculty of IT but is housed in the Monash Art, Design and Architecture building.
Sensilab was founded in 2015 with a vision of a space where researchers from unconnected disciplines could collaborate in a vibrant and supportive environment. Its purpose-built workshop incorporates design, fabrication and production studios, all integrated with advanced computing infrastructure.
Nina explains that her PhD at Sensilab is “centred around the idea of human-machine relationships”.
“I’m trying to explore the different kinds of relationships we could have with technology,” she says, adding that her work is inspired by theories in philosophy like posthumanism – the idea that humanity can be transformed, transcended or even eliminated by technological advances.
But her work isn’t all theory. “I’m trying to move beyond just speculative work by actually materialising these technologies and putting them out into the world,” she says.
Nina’s career and study path
- Bachelor of Physics, University of Melbourne
- Masters of Physics (Theoretical Particle Physics), University of Melbourne
- Data Engineer, Lexer
- PhD Candidate, SensiLab, Monash University
This article was produced in partnership with the Monash University Faculty of IT.
Author: Gemma Chilton
Gemma is the Managing Editor of Careers with STEM magazine. She has previously worked as Digital Managing Editor at Australian Geographic and a staff writer at Cosmos science magazine.