June 4, 2010

Congratulations in order, and a look at how scientific ideas can inspire art

Yesterday, Heather received word that one of her recent drawings, Remediation I would be included in the Metro Montage at the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art. Obviously, big congrats are in order. I’m incredibly proud of her and her work and thankful every day that she chooses to share her talent and her life with me.
The piece is the first of a series of similar compositions that picture animals on floating islands of habitats yanked from the earth that are connected to one another via human structures. Despite its name, however, Remediation I had a predecessor at TVG.
Back in February, as Tai Shan and Mei Lan were being rounded up to be shipped back to China, I found a paper reviewing experimental mapping of the giant panda’s fragmented habitat along certain mountain ranges and explored the possibility of creating corridors between forest patches in order to increase gene flow and keep the patch populations from becoming so small that recovery is impossible. I asked Heather if she could illustrate the post after we chatted about fragmentation concepts for a while and this is what she drew:

Remediation I is pictured below. It’s far too big to scan, so please excuse the relatively poor quality; we need a better camera.

It’s a perfect example of how scientific ideas can become artistic ones and how the ideas that enter our heads can be stripped of context and completely refigured. We start with a research paper, the summation of years of rigorous study that constructs (or represents, however you want to look at it) a system of interlocking parts that can be transposed to a different framework completely and be thematically represented in an image. The image inspires other, more complicated images that comprise a series and the series inspires a whole new set of images that constitute another theme, but were obviously informed by their predecessors. It’s not a closed system, however. Running concurrently is the constant stream of daily information that can add context and nuance. Four months later, Heather is crafting the last of the Remediation series and putting the final conceptual touches on its child, a completely new take on a multi-faceted theme.
It started with a paper, moved through a review and an illustrated blog post and ended up on framed paper which will ultimately sit on a wall in a gallery for the summer. It’s not often that I actually break down process on this site, but this was far too good of an example to pass up.
My love of science has directly informed my own creativity. Scientific concepts challenge your perspective, force you to be more analytical, to take apart and reassemble, to focus on pieces and segments and then to pull back as you line them up into something more formidable. The process of transposing that I described above, which Heather implements in these works, is all about moving frameworks that can be applied in very different situations. As I've said numerous times before, it fascinates me, these tenuous threads between conceptual paths, different in application and purpose, but not so different with the context removed.
Don't walk away with the impression that I'm trying to relay some sort of silly equivalence like "science is art and art is science"; it's more of a matter of attempting to refute the impulse to elevate one above another, or to comfortably lean, to one side or the other, of that often brightly drawn academic line between disciplines.

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