Art and Science Mashup

I’ve been realizing lately that the allure of the online universe can have a centripetal pull against taking the plunge to go someplace new, with one’s feet, not just through clicks and returns.  That putting myself into situations that are full of people and ideas in three dimensions just feels good and is always worth the effort with a bit of selectivity in advance. For those of us working from a home studio/office without regular idea-sharing built in with strangers, it can be as refreshing as say, being lettuce put through a salad spinner.

I learned about the Women in Science Animation Salon I attended yesterday through Artists in Context (a valuable networking and community-building organization based in Boston), and took that plunge to drive to Providence, watch a screening and meet the filmmakers in a salon setting. I am especially fascinated with intersections of art and science, particularly around fostering empathy and curiosity for other species. As easy as it is to watch these films online, there is a vitality to watching them in an audience that, for me, gives some of the material staying power. There is a cavalierness inherent in online viewing and surfing that isn’t there when you can’t close the window with a click of the mouse. I was in the spinner and it was fun.

Little did I know that I’d walk away from the afternoon thinking about duck reproductive systems being like corkscrews, bower birds’ understanding of forced perspective, or the visual beauty of barnacle sexuality. Sophia Tintori, The biologist/animator and founder of www.creaturecast.org based in a biology lab at Brown University, showed several of her film shorts that use animation to teach wondrous things about animals, cell biology, fungi, plants, among other topics. Check out some of the shorts on their website to see what I’m talking about.

Jo Dery was the other animator showing some of her films at the screening. Her pieces were longer than those for creaturecast, and used more involved drawing and animation techniques to tell stories visually and musically. As I experiment with different ways of telling stories involving interspecies connections through the projects for naturestage, I am inspired by work like this. There are so many ways to tell stories. I encourage you to check out her work too at www.jodery.com and via her blog.

After the screening, there was a brief conversation about commonalities between artists and scientists and whether science needs art and vice versa. I find it much more interesting to turn the lens on ourselves and ask whether in our current climate of human-caused species loss, exploding human population and rising social inequity, we can fuse scientific rigor with artistic expression towards real solutions to human needs – energy, food, water, transportation, community. Both artist and scientist are on paths of discovery and openness to mystery. Both are careful observers and both are often patient about being on an uncharted path following intuition. One of the artists who exemplifies this fusion is Catherine Chalmers, known for her cockroach series a few years ago. She’s now working on a multi-media project about the leaf-cutter ant and its commonalities with humans through close-up photographs and videos playing with scale.

In a recent blog for Scientific American…[After spending so much time in their world, Chalmers sees strong parallels between leafcutter ants and humans. “As an individual, I can’t make an iPhone, or a jet airplane. Things I use on a regular basis I am incapable of doing myself,” says Chalmers. “Leafcutter ants are the same way.” As one example, Chalmers cites the fungus gardens that the ants cultivate underground from chewed-up leaves, a task accomplished by the entire colony. “This incredible power of a super organism is [far] greater than the sum of its parts.]

Part of our complex societal role as artists is to ask questions often in the guise of entertainment, but there needs to be follow-through and support for the openness of heart and mind that can happen when intersecting with art. Society needs to value the questioner.

To read more about Chalmers in Jessica Wapner’s blog, see this link.

About naturestage

Miranda Loud is the Founder and Artistic Director of the non-profit NatureStage based in Waltham, MA, and is an interdisciplinary artist - classical singer/organist/filmmaker/photographer and environmentalist. She writes about the vital need for education to include a more heart-centered approach to studying other species that leads to a sense of stewardship. Naturestage creates works that foster empathy and kinship with other species, using the emotional power of storytelling in different art forms, mainly film, photography and music. She is also a public speaker on art and social change. Her current projects include The One Language Project, Park Dreams, The Elephant Project, and Elephantasia which all use different art forms to encourage a mind shift in how we relate to other species by asking "How would the world be different if we viewed other species as someones instead of somethings? If, instead of drawing lines, we drew circles?"
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