Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Art, Science and Nature

The focus on STEAM learning has rightfully raised awareness of the significant role the arts can play as part of an integrated curriculum including science, technology, engineering and math. in fostering creativity and innovation in our young people and cultivating a 21st century workforce.

BUT, I want to focus here on the phenomenon - which I would contend just from my anecdotal observation is growing - of artists whose work is grounded in exploration of science, nature and technology. And I am not talking about traditional plein air nature painting, but about work that is based on or uses scientific principles and natural phenomenon, or perhaps educates us about science through the art. I find this thread of art-making to be especially fascinating and thought-provoking. This is something I observed in my time in New York, as well as Philadelphia, that I have also seen bubbling up in Denver. There is even an organization, Art and Science Collaborations Inc. (ASCI) that was founded by Cynthia Pannucci in 1988. Lots of great information on their Web site.

The variety of work is so broad and diverse. Here is a round-up of some work of note - recent and not. Not intended to be definitive, just a flavor of the variety of work that is going on in this vein that I have come to know over the years.

Rachel Sussman's stunning photographs documenting the world's oldest living things:

La Llareta (up to 3,000 years old; Atacama Desert, Chile); (c) Rachel Sussman

Diane Burko's photographs and paintings exploring the effects of climate change:

Khumbu Icefall Everest, I & II, May/June 2010 , Oil on canvas, 48 x 74 inches  (image is one part of a diptych)
(c) Diane Burko

And of course there is Mel Chin's work, from his 1991 Revival Field project, using plants to draw toxins out of the soil, to his "Operation Paydirt - Fundred Dollar Bill" project designed to address the challenge of lead contaminated soil in New Orleans:


Mel Chin, Revival Field, 1991

Mel Chin - Operation Paydirt; 2007 - ongoing

Here in Denver there is Todd Siler, and MIT-trained visual artist whose work explores brain science - how the mind works, how we innovate. He has also used his combined training in art and science to do a lot of arts-based learning work for business:

One of Todd Siler's "Metaphorm" pieces - Mind Icons, 1991

And back when I was in New York, I encountered the work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, one of the first artists I encountered working in this space, whose was making art to address the issue of waste, sanitation and recycling and since 1977 has been the artist-in-residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation, doing a  lot of work at the Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island. For this blog entry I just learned she was actually born in Denver!:

Still from Penetration and Transparency: Morphed, 2001-2002,
6 channel video
part of Phase I Reconnaissance as Percent for Art Artist of Fresh Kills
New York City Department of Sanitation 

When I was in Milwaukee several years ago for the Americans for the Arts conference, I encountered the astonishing work of Chuck Hoberman at the then-brand-new Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin (a combination science museum/aquarium) - his DNA-based "Expanding Helicoid" (video below).  An artist-engineer (hyphenates are common in this work), he is perhaps best known to the general public for his design of the "Hoberman Sphere", a version of which is in many museum gift shops and design stores.