Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Response to Week 1 provocation

First of all, sorry to respond to Bill Fox’s week one provocation so late in the game—I just launched a new Web-based project over the weekend, which has taken up most of my time & energy for the last few days.

In terms of borrowing “constructs and terms from science for the purpose of art & environment projects” I have been less interested in farming/appropriating scientific discourse and specific terms as my themes for my projects and more interested in illustrating scientific concepts for my audience to connect complex human/ecological relationships to a specific environment or area I’m studying and documenting.

For instance, when I began focusing (my camera) on the Salton Sea in the mid to late ‘90s, I realized that I could not show the images without some in depth explanation of what was depicted within them. (Foremost, it was important for me to understand this myself). A title or caption did not work, as it just didn’t really convey the complexity of the condition, the history, or even the humor/irony of a particular scene. Hence, writing became just as important as the photographic images in defining what was happening to these places.

Consequently, I realized that I had to do my homework understand the biological and scientific terms and conditions I was seeing while working on site.
Not trained in these fields I did a lot of reading and research. I began to seek out scientific resources such as the Dr. Victoria Matey and her late, husband, Dr. Borris Kuperman at SDSU who were imaging parasite infestations on tilapia found at the Salton Sea. (This non-native species suffered sporadic catastrophic die-offs throughout the ‘90s into the turn of the century and would cover the shore with thousands of rotting carcasses at various times). Matey and Kuperman’s published scientific findings showed that the infestation (a beautiful image in itself) was one of the many related environmental hazards causing the tilapia population to implode. (Tilapia is a prolific breeder and the population at the Salton has always managed to recover from die-offs).

I included some of the Matey/Kuperman scanning electron microscope from their Salton study in my book seeing them as beautiful aesthetic images and also a way to inform the viewer about biological systems/relationships within the sea. I guess I’m interested in ways artist projects can help relate scientific discourse visually or in some other creative way to an audience and still incorporate scientific rigor without making it as dry as can be when reading the same information in a textbook. Artists such as Mark Dion are really good at this. Perhaps there’s something that the scientific community can learn from us artists as well?

1 comment:

Caryn said...

Thanks for asking this question, Kim. It was one I was also thinking of while reflecting on Bill's initial provocation. I wondered, for instance, about the element of surprise in scientific investigations. I think artists are geared for surprise in their work, and know how to welcome it into the doing and making process. I wonder whether surprise is a useful, welcome element for scientists, or whether surprises are considered "failures."