Monday, March 30, 2009

Concept of Scale

Collaborations between artists and scientists have yielded many intriguing projects over the past 20-plus years, as documented on the ASCI website. Having engaged in a fruitful art/science collaboration with Claire Beynon from 2005-8, the next step for our outreach program was to share this experience with elementary, middle, and high-school students. Enter the Capital Region Center for Arts in Education (CRCAE).

Based on our collaboration, artists Chris Moran and Pavlos Mayakis, together with poet Cara Benson, ran a CRCAE-sponsored art/science workshop for teachers last summer. This outreach project was recently put to the test: a classroom of bubbly bright 7th- and 8th-grade students in Holly May's English class at New Lebanon Junior/Senior High School were engaged in an art/science experience that explored the concept of scale. Expository writing was an essential ingredient of the program, providing another link between diverse curricula. Details will follow at the artscience alliance website; below are a few images to set the stage:

Thinking about Claire Beynon's interpretive artwork

Writing observations

Dr. B, artist Chris Moran, and writing instructor Holly May

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour, from one home in New York

Today marks Earth Hour, and I'll watch evening fall with a swarm of ants that emerge from our walkway each year.

Faithful as the equinox, these ants help mark springtime. Their emergence is, of course, a manifestation of their life cycle. Courtship, mating, new life, all timed to the start of this season.

I try to step over them while walking, working, and wondering.

In six hours our lights will extinguish; together with many other New Yorkers we add our voices (er, our absence of photons) in making a statement to world leaders about curbing climate change.

The ants are unaware of this, though. They are busy moving about, wandering between the pavers. Watching their bustle makes me itch. Or perhaps some of them have made their way up my pants.

It's 8:30, and the house is dark. The ants are barely moving, and I lay down next to the swarm. The night air is crisp and refreshing, but only a few stars poke through the clouds to light the sky.

Speaking of stars, I'll never forget my first evening wearing glasses: I was five years old, and couldn't wait to look at the Milky Way wearing them. (Being a product of the Space Age, I was a HUGE fan of astronomy.) But that first glimpse of the night sky with corrected vision remains one of the darkest moments of my life. Those warm fuzzy balls that painted nighttime since birth were really cold, lonely pinpricks of light.

The universe still seems much friendlier without glasses, so I take them off and share the night sky with the ants. Their eyes lack visual acuity as well - one of the many things we have in common.

It is now 9:30, and Earth Hour passes West to the next time zone. The ants are motionless. I think I'll leave the lights off, and join them in sleep.

P.S. Earth Hour +12

As predicted by meteorologists, rain has come. The swarm of ants is now a dispersion of corpses. I don't think the rain killed them; more likely, their life cycle was complete as nighttime fell.

Nevertheless, one takes pause.

Monday, March 23, 2009

InterfaCE IV(a)

Next week, InterfaCE IV will be installed in the Mildred I. Washington art gallery at Dutchess Community College, Poughkeepsie, New York. This version of InterfaCE will be placed on a 4x8-ft piece of canvas. I've been prepping the canvas these last few nights, enjoying the feel of gesso slipping off of a brush.

I ran down the canvas applying gesso, like wind skirts along the ice surface carrying streams of snow. The gesso texture will be barely perceptible when it dries, and will be further obscured by beakers and disks of photographs, micrographs, and paintings. Nevertheless, memories of wind-blown snow are at the forefront of this man's mind.

Tonight I made long, wispy strokes while applying the final layer, thinking about how the wind blows snow across the ice. It's so beautiful to watch, and to sit in. I've spent hours relishing its impact, and sometimes felt guilty about being in its way. But then I realize that millions of snowflakes were rescued by letting them coalesce into shapes on my parka and wind pants.

One day those shapes might reappear as InterfaCE V -- or perhaps they already have in the countless dreams that I don't remember.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Immersion in the Sublime

Work often takes me to extreme places, such as the outer space-like vacuum of an electron microscope or the frozen seascape of McMurdo Sound. Such places harbor limitless riches in sight, sound, and experience. They should be the domains of dreamers, poets, and artists.

When slipping through the thick sea ice and descending to its underside, a profound loneliness always  chills my heart. The thought that there is no other person in the entire Southern Ocean at that moment, compounded by the indescribable beauty of the icy aquatic space, defines the sublime to this man. Life sustained by a thin tube delivering air on demand. Life enabled by sophisticated under- and outerwear. Life viewed by a privileged scientist - a linear, analytical thinker, seeking a way to express this moment to others. A faithful rationalist who, for two decades, has extended his cold, wet hand toward the warmth of artists.

The Underside of Sea Ice
still frame of a Shawn Harper video

Glimpses of such underwater moments are portrayed in Werner Herzog's recent documentary, brilliantly captured by Henry Kaiser's lens. But the feeling I am trying to describe here is much more haunting. It is an isolation and a beauty like no other. I know intuitively that it is profound, even though I don't know what it is.

One day I hope to find an artist who understands this feeling and will help me express it. An artist who will help me share it with the world.