Ligo Project’s Art of Science Gallery Night Highlights SciArt Collaborations
This was not your usual scientific poster session. Though the displays used the traditional format for a science poster—background, methods, results—there was something odd about the figures: they included photographs of paintings and sculptures alongside the more typical scientific images. What’s more, they hung in an art gallery. The posters reported the results of an increasingly popular experiment: collaboration between artists and scientists.
Art of Science Gallery Night, held Wednesday evening at Culturefix gallery and bar on the Lower East Side, was the show at the end of a six-month collaboration between six artist-scientist teams in the NYC area. The Ligo project, an organization that aims to build connections between scientists and nonscientists, organized the collaborations.
By Ashley P. Taylor
As Ligo Project co-founder Shane Mayack told Artlab’s Maryam Zaringhalam in a recent interview:
“At the simplest level, our goal is to get scientists to talk to nonscientists about their work more often than they do. There are actually very few venues to get valuable scientific information that’s not geared specifically towards other scientists. Even just to find an article from a particular scientist written with a lay audience in mind is so difficult. So we have many iterations of how to go about bridging this gap, and we’ve settled on Art of Science as a vehicle for getting some of these ideas and messages out. So while Art of Science is in essence this cool science-inspired art project, it’s also much bigger than that for us—it’s a tool to promote and gain support for the science.”
The evening lived up to expectations according to Ligo Project co-founder David Ulrich. “It’s great,” he said, reminding me of what a mix of artists and scientists had shown up. Midway through the evening, Ulrich, a tall man in black with wavy black hair and rectangular-framed glasses, asked both scientists, then artists in the room to raise their hands, and both groups were well represented.
None of the artist collaborators I spoke with were proclaimed “SciArtists” per se; though interested in science, they had not previously worked with scientists or used science as a basis for artwork. Through paintings, sculptures, and choreography, though no music, the artists interpreted the science broadly and in many different ways.
Artist c.hill (Caroline Marshall Hill), a smiley woman with a crewcut/pompadour hairstyle, created a wall hanging made of Metro cards connected by telephone wires, each one painted with unlikely hybrid creatures: alligator cellos, clock elephants. She collaborated with Fordham University plant ecologist Steve Franks. “I’m pretty geeky about plants,” Hill said. Her work related to Franks’ research in that it explored the concept, important in ecology, of interconnectedness.
Jasmine Murrell learned about the nitty gritty of cancer metastasis in her collaboration with Charles Sherr, a visiting scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Her installation in the show, Vinyl Growth, consists of three records with black growths emerging from the centers and a framed poster titled “Metastasis of Music” comparing the commercialization of music to the spread of cancer.
On the other hand, the work of Marie Roberts, who collaborated with CUNY chemist Teresa Bandosz, was a literal rendering of life in the lab, as opposed to an interpretation of scientific concepts or data. Roberts painted scenes from the laboratory, capturing the scientists at work. Computers were prominent, as were plants in the lab, which Roberts identified as Southwest American cacti. For some of her works, Roberts used carbon from the lab as a drawing/painting material. Though she knew that the carbon was used in a “filtration system” for removing environmental toxins at sewage treatment plants, that was as far as the scientific explanation went.
What most struck me about the event was the extent to which science was presented to the public alongside and through the art. The scientist collaborators mingled with everyone throughout the evening, and printouts of their papers were arrayed on a table for attendees to take home. While artists usually attend their own art openings, scientists rarely have opportunities to speak with members of the public about their work.
Here, a good time was had by all, scientists included. Franks, who worked with c.hill, along with one other artist, said the collaboration was very interesting and different from what he normally did. He was surprised about how broad the artistic interpretations were; the artists were not trying to illustrate his research. On a more superficial level, he mentioned that the “outreach” experience would likely look good on grant proposals.