Monday, July 27, 2009

Antennnae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

The artist Brandon Ballengee sent a link to the new issue of Antennae, which features one of his scans of cleared and stained amphibians on the cover. The journal is new to me, and I read the whole thing this weekend very avidly. In addition to being a great overview of the academic issues facing the study of nature and visual culture, it had excellent insights into art/science collaborations which is something that I have always been interested in and have the chance to see first-hand with my work on the board of iLAND.

Here is Brandon in an interview:

I strongly do not think blurring in the context of genuine art and science cooperation means dumbing-down. Collaboration implements increased complexity. For in collaborative multi-disciplinary projects, participants come from different skilled backgrounds and work through different models of approach. During the working process natural blurring or overlaps occur between disciplines – which is essential for a cross-pollination of knowledge and skills. Innovation happens precisely because participants approach problems differently. The process is not exclusively art or science but transdisciplinary research.

What is most intriguing to me is that the collaboration is not science or art, but this hybrid that Brandon calls "transdisciplinary research."

Here are two other artists Dan Harvey and Heather Ackroyd:

Pr. Howard Thomas has mentioned that our collaboration has had a direct influence on the culture of IGER (Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research) and stated that some of the new directions for IGER research would never have been undertaken without our artistic presence. There has been quite a strong media profile for art and science initiatives in the UK in the last few years, and the work of IGER has received more press through our working together than it thought possible, or would have done without our interaction, and when funding for research institutes is hard won, “profile” means something. It has been argued at times that artists gain more from crossing the cultural divide between art and science than scientists do, but we buck that trend.

I pulled this quote because I thought it did a tremendous job of "measuring" the value of the arts to science. Collaborations with artists allow scientists to pursue "new directions," to increase the media profile of science institutions, and improve the chances for "scientific" funding. Although only anecdotal it is very persuasivie. If anyone knows of any other studies that are more quantitative about the effects of artist's collaborations on scientific funding I would love to see them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Considered Landscape

The poet Andrew Schelling sent me a wonderful little book that I had never heard of before, THE CONSIDERED LANDSCAPE by the botanist Edgar Anderson (White Pine Press, 1985).  It is a collection of essays that Anderson had originally written for the journal Landscape.  Although he was not a poet and his book was not necessarily geared toward poets, he opens his first essay with a very provocative couple of sentences against the "average" American poet:

Sometimes the American poet lets us down.   He lives and writes in America but in his mind's eye he looks upon an English rather than an American landscape.  Look about you just as spring is passing into summer: look with a clear eye and a critical mind and see if you find the kind of a June the average American poet has been singing of.

Here he describes the power that reading has over the poet, mediating one's experience of the world before one's eyes.  It is the kind of statement that only someone who has spent a long time in the field can make, and it really encourages me to keep getting out and actually seeing what is there.

Many of the pieces in the book consider urban landscapes.  In these essays he is ahead of his time, noting how natural cities are and how wonderful they are for "studies" of human nature, weather, plants, and birds.  He critiques the American tendency to see "nature" outside of cities, and believes that is why cities can be so poorly designed.  

I have always thought that one of the ways to be happy in the City is to pay attention the natural world: the phases of the moon, the migrations, life cycle of trees and weeds, and it was very heartening to find Anderson describing this too:

One can forget one's troubles, and find peace and quiet, and food for thought in the intelligent observation of nature.  It is quite as easy in the city as the country; all one has to do is accept (we are) a part of Nature.