Published on April 16th, 2013 | by Rachel Moreshead


Simple Equation, Powerful Ideas: Art+Sci in Tacoma

“Imagine a scientist who gets lost in space and finds himself in art.”

A simple request kicked off the first ever Art+Sci Salon in February when Siddarth Ramakrishan, Department Chair of Neuroscience at The University of Puget Sound, posed this concept to the curious attendees who overflowed the Art Resource Center at the Tacoma Art Museum.

One of the four initial organizers of Art+Sci, Ramakrishan went on to give a compelling, tongue-in-cheek glimpse into his own neurological science experimentation as well as a description of his collaborations with artists, bringing the point of Art+Sci into focus. This venture was developed by University of Puget Sound professors and organized to bring scientists, artists, and interdisciplinary thinkers together through conversation and collaboration.

After sharing his work with snail brains, tagging neurons in zebrafish  and a quick reference to genes that control your body patterns, Ramakrishan emphasized his desire to see science and art as a collaborative community effort in Tacoma.  “It’s all about getting some connections happening between artists and scientists,” he says. “We’re hopeful that people will be inspired by others’ work and decide to go out for a coffee and talk about working together.”

Information for the first Art+Sci salon in February 2013.

Information for the first Art+Sci salon in February 2013.

One by one, educators, artists, and scientists described what kind of science or art (or both) they were each interested in and working on.  These presentations, given Pecha Kucha style, offered the audience an engaging back story for each participator complete with a perspective of why they each value science in art and/or vice versa.

Standouts included Michael Johnson, who collects GPS data based on pass points of his blue heeler, Tess, takes that data and then layers the lines they make order to create a 3D image machine-milled in MDF (medium density fibreboard).

Another favorite of mine was Janet Marcavage who creates lithographic prints with embossments of molecular images. Sounds complicated, but her relief prints are remarkably clean, precise images utilizing repeating patterns of nucleotype bases. She also employs the same colors used in genetic testing, and uses the coding of her own DNA to outline a self-portrait.

It’s clear from the perspective of the presenters that art and science can have an inseparable relationship; and this relationship is perhaps uniquely strong here in Tacoma where interdisciplinary education continues to play a stronger part in many local schools and universities.

Elise Richman, another of the four University of Puget Sound professors responsible for bringing Art+Sci to life, noted the welcome pressure of presenting to an audience outside their fields of expertise. The salon forced each presenter to clearly articulate what their work was about in order to raise interest in collaboration.

From my seat in the audience, this challenge to communicate effectively opened up each artist or scientist to talk about their work in an entirely different way- and make new discoveries about their own work from that process.

So why art and science?  Why collaborate?  While I’m personally excited about employing all those elements, I wanted to know more, so I caught up with Richman a few days after the March Art+Sci salon debut.

Richman’s interest was spurred by a class offered by Elizabeth Connor at UWT called “Public Art in Depth.”  The class was attended by 24 artists who, while in the program benefited from regular opportunities to share ideas, collaborate with each other, and develop their respective crafts. “But then the class ended and that support system, the continuity of meeting times, went away,” she lamented.

From this experience with “Public Art in Depth”, Richman brought a desire to bring that same degree of continuity, interdiscipline, and structured support to developing Art+Sci. With a commitment to reach beyond the boundaries of the Puget Sound campus and to tap into local talent and perspectives, she suggested Art+Sci meet every third Thursday at Tacoma Art Museum: included in Tacoma’s monthly, free art walk. This forum allows for greater access for the whole community; “more voices equals more possibilities,” Richman reasoned,  “we want to provide the opportunity for people who wouldn’t otherwise find each other to come together.”

Information about the second Art+Sci salon in April 2013.

Information about the second Art+Sci salon in April 2013.

A successful debut in their wake, Art+Sci will come together again for round two on April 18: guest eco-artist Jackie Brookner will lead a panel discussion on art and ecological issues.

Also in the works for future Art+Sci salons: “speed dating” where artists and scientists will break into small groups by interest to discuss work and potential collaborative projects.

Stay informed about upcoming Art+Sci events by checking in with their webpage:

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