On the surface, a geology professor, a museum collection manager and a conceptual artist do not seem to have much in common. But last Thursday all three individuals came together to speak about the combination of art and science present in their work, as part of the first Brown Rhode Island School of Design Art Science Evening Rendezvous (BRASER). After each presented for 20 minutes, the three speakers participated in a joint Q & A session with a small but enthusiastic audience in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts.
The event series is modeled after a similar series in California run by the Leonardo Journal, a publication focused on how science and technology can be applied to art. Greg Sewitz '13 was familiar with the series and decided to create a Brown/RISD branch.
Sewitz started a Group Independent Study Project last semester that focused on the intersection of science and art, where he met other students who were interested in the lecture series. He brought the idea to the Creative Scholars Project - a community of students and professors at Brown and RISD who come together to discuss and refine creative projects.
They secured funding from the Creative Mind Initiative, a University-wide program "dedicated to exploring and expanding creative practice across disciplines at Brown and beyond," according to its Facebook page.
The event on Thursday featured Jim Head, professor of geological sciences, Jenny Brown, curator of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants at Harvard and Serkan Ozkaya, a New York-based conceptual artist.
Head presented "Postcards from Another Planet," a short talk in which he described the NASA missions to the moon and to Mars by using stunning photographs of their surfaces.
RISD students often take his course, GEOL 0050: "Mars, Moon and the Earth," or "moons for goons," Head joked. When he shows slides depicting the moon or Mars, they often ask him to slow down so they have time to examine the aesthetics of the images. Their remarks made him better appreciate the beauty of the scenes, Head said.
In his presentation, he clicked through slides depicting images from NASA missions, including some of ice evaporating, unusual patterns in polar caps and beautiful dunes. Mars is "an absolutely stunning place," he remarked.
Brown spoke of her work as curator of what is commonly referred to as the "Glass Flowers" collection. The collection includes thousands of individual glass models of plants created by two renowned glassblowers in the late 19th century and early 20th century as a tool for botanical instruction at a time when rigorous observation of the natural world characterized much of science education.
The flowers were constructed with an "extraordinarily high degree of scientific accuracy," Brown said. "They are often described as 'artistic marvels in the field of science and scientific marvels in the field of art.'"
Ozkaya was the third and final presenter. He discussed two of his projects in which he utilized computer modeling to create his artwork.
The first project he described was his effort to create a version of Michelangelo's David twice the size of the original by utilizing a 3D model that a computer scientist created. Ozkaya doubled its size and then imitated a three-dimensional printer by dividing the statue into 900 layers and printing outlines of each layer that he later cut out in Styrofoam. He and his team then put the layers together and painted the product gold. They then attempted to install the statue in Istanbul, a city that "doesn't have that kind of aesthetic," Ozkaya said, referring to the statue's renaissance vibe.
Unfortunately, during its installation, the statue toppled to the ground and broke. So Ozkaya tried to replicate the same out-of-place feeling the statue would have invoked in Turkey by putting it back together and parking it sideways on a flat-bed truck in the middle of New York City. The statue was then installed in Louisville, Kentucky, where it now resides.
His second project also involved computer modeling. For "One and Three Pasta," Ozkaya collaborated with a mathematician to create computer models of popular pasta shapes. The final exhibit will display a real piece of pasta next to a sculpture created by the computer model, in front of an image of the pasta's equation.
Elizabeth Wolfson, a graduate student and co-facilitator of the Creative Scholars Project, said she enjoyed the event.
"What was most interesting to me were the points of overlap between the three conversations where it was evident that people working in different fields had to develop new skills and new ways of working and new ways of thinking in order to realize the projects that they were aiming to complete," she said.
To find participants, Sewitz said he looks through websites recommended to him by the people who run the California branch of the series, in addition to reaching out to professors and friends, or friends of friends.
Sewitz said to find lecturers, it was important to bring in people from beyond the Brown and RISD communities.
"In these sort of art and science conversations, it's typically the same professors that are willing to blur the lines. ... I wanted to get an influx of new blood in to stimulate some more discussion."
The response so far has been "really great," he said. "People are just excited to embrace and encourage this idea of interdisciplinary collaboration."
Next month's event will be held in the RISD Museum Oct. 18, and will feature Casey Dunn, the Brown biology professor who created "CreatureCast," Neal Overstrom, the director of the RISD Nature Lab and Andrea Grover, the curator of the touring "Intimate Science" exhibit.