Amidst preparations for the opening of the show I wanted to share my words shared with donors of the laboratory this past Tuesday the 5th. They offer a concise summary of what happened during the residency and why we did what we did.
“Thank you all for coming this evening and showing your support for this project. Before I share some insight into what we’ve been doing for the past 4 months or so, I’d like to thank everyone involved in making this wonderful project possible. I would especially like to thank Dr. Steve Archer, Carlton Rauschenberg, Darlene Crist, and Jessica Tomlinson of the Maine College of Art. Steve and Carlton shared a wealth of knowledge and time with me, making this project the exciting and engaging collaboration that it was. Our conversations about light, acids, microbiology, copper etching, and many more topics will undoubtedly change the course of my work. In addition, Darlene and Jessica were instrumental in connecting the seemingly disparate artist and scientist, and bringing this residency to fruition. Darlene’s apparent joy for what she did here at Bigelow was contagious.
What I have learned in a number of ways, is that visual artists and scientists are far from disparate, but on the contrary their creativity and passion for experimentation, discovery and understanding are kindred to say the least.
After graduating from the Maine College of Art I had an itch to explore the idea and process of collaborating with a group of people that had little to do with visual art. Upon discovering Bigelow Laboratory I was quickly immersed in the idea of collaborating with such a facility. The research, that which I could understand, was fascinating and the laboratory itself had a kind of magical appeal to it’s hidden coastal location. I found myself particularly drawn to Steve’s research involving ocean acidification and the biological production of DMS or Dimethyl Sulfide, as well as the massive experimental water enclosures called mesocosms that aided that research. The mesocosm became a central focus throughout my time at the laboratory. Perhaps, as well, the most intriguing and exciting quality of the laboratory was their responsiveness and willingness to the idea of an art and science exploration. I came to the table with little understanding of how a residency should be run. I also flat out told Darlene when I pitched this project that I had no plans, no expectations and of course no money…Typically that’s a step-by-step instructional on how not to propose projects in the business world. But, Darlene, Graham and Steve seemed to appreciate the chance that great things can happen when they’re being done without any preconceptions of how they should turn out, but rather by the nature of chance and experimentation. That’s a quality that I felt incredibly welcomed by, and set everything else in motion.
It’s been difficult for me to sum up everything that went into the final piece, titled Colorcosm. Our conversations were rich and at times convoluted. So, I will briefly talk about where the science fits in most obviously and the creative process by which the piece was made.
My fascination with the forms and materials of the mesocosm devices mentioned earlier become the inspiration for the overall form of Colorcosm. For those of you who haven’t seen images of these devices they are basically giant cylindrical sea bags that are suspended in open water. There was a mysterious kind of animation to them that really caught my attention.
There were two other branches of Steve’s research that went into the final piece, those being ocean acidification and a particular gas exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere. Through our conversations we started making connections between some of the effects of decreasing ocean PH, and a process called copper etching which is something I frequently use as a source for imagery and inspiration in my work. One of the realities of decreasing ocean PH is that calcium carbonate, or shell bearing creatures are having an increasingly difficult time maintaining healthy shells, so to speak. We started collecting coralline algae, which you can find in bucket loads on most beaches in Maine. I gravitated towards them while Steve and I spent an afternoon scouring for inspiration on the beach, a process I am very accustomed to. I eventually used the dried coralline algae to make copper printing plates through a printmaking technique called soft-ground. The results, among other things, were tiny topographical pieces of copper that Carlton and I then took to the Laboratory’s Scanning Electron Microscope for investigation. The images from which became the source for my digitally manipulated patterns and shapes that are printed over the surface of the 6 rings of Colorcosm.
The connection between microbiology, ocean and atmosphere seemed like an essential part of Steve’s research. It became the inspiration for the spatial element of Colorcosm, which you will notice as you move upwards, each space between each colored ring becomes larger as the rings reduce in width. I wanted there to be a sense that as the piece extended upwards is was getting lighter, and that there was a sort of exchange of printed matter and negative space. The choice of a semi-transparent material was to allow the landscape and the architecture to flow through and with the piece, while offering a new perspective, a sort of fantastic lens to look through. That’s a lot of how I felt the architecture plays a role with the exterior landscape here. It’s there no doubt big and beautiful, but it reminds us of the greater context of which this building is situated in. It pulls us outwards to the water, and upwards to the sky.
The color choices of Colorcosm are a reflection of my interests in light and our perceptions of color, and how those interests related to the roles of light in water and oceanic life. Each ring, from top to bottom, resembles the color of the visible light spectrum that is absorbed at that relative depth of open ocean. Red light drops off first, not far from the surface, while blue light penetrates the deepest. These properties of light in water absorption play big roles in photosynthesizing microbiology, which is a conversation Steve, Carlton and I found ourselves diving into frequently.
I could go on for hours about this piece and the process of working with Bigelow Lab, and I skipped over a lot of detail here, but for the sake of brevity I will stop there. This was an amazing experience for me, one that I hope other’s like myself and here at Bigelow can be a part of in the future. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the piece or would like to know more. Part of our goal with this project is to start conversations, whether they lead to what is happening at the Laboratory here, with art, or anywhere in between and beyond—that is welcome and encouraged. Thank you for listening and being a part of this incredibly special place.”