When Art and Science Meet — We Want to See What Will Happen

February 14, 2013

A series of salons will bring thinkers from each world together 

Art+Science Salon at Tacoma Art Museum, Feb. 21


TACOMA, Wash. – Artists and scientists tend to live and work in very different worlds. But in major cities across three continents the question is being asked: “Is there something to be gained in our understanding of humankind by encouraging scientists and artists to share their ideas?”

Siddharth Ramakrishnan, the new Jennie M. Caruthers Chair in Neuroscience at University of Puget Sound, asked this question several years ago. He began sharing his scientific inspirations with artists and together they created new ways of looking at things. When the Columbia University researcher arrived in Tacoma this year, he found there are many here keen to do the same.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, University of Puget Sound and Tacoma Art Museum will present the first Art+Science Salon, running 6–8 p.m. at Tacoma Art Museum, in the Art Resource Center on the third floor. Everyone is welcome to the free event, which runs on the museum’s regular Third Thursday free admission day.

The evening will include five-minute presentations by 10 artists and scientists in what is known as Pecha Kucha style: a fast-paced series of presentations that encourage the synthesizing of ideas.

“It’s all about getting some connections happening between artists and scientists,” Ramakrishnan said. “We’re hopeful that people will be inspired by others’ work and decide to go out for a coffee and talk about working together.”

The learning witnessed so far in centers where such collaborations have occurred—at institutions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Zurich, and Hong Kong—has extended not only to scientists and artists, but to the public.

“These collaborations can help break down the intimidation of science,” Ramakrishnan says. “Art is more accessible and can bring more people into a conversation than just a few scientists. You give artists access to scientific data and allow them to interpret it, and they are better at informing the local culture about important events.”

Ramakrishnan gives an example of his own work with hox genes. These eight genes are common to all species and determine the position of body parts such as legs, arms, and fins. Artists took the hox gene concept and, using electronic lights, morphed the shadows of humans and animals into entirely different shapes. The images inspired Ramakrishnan to see the genes in a far broader context, while the conversation that ignited among public viewers took on a life of its own—raising issues about genetic manipulation and animal mutations.

“Scientists get a lot of data,” Ramakrishnan says. “What we need are people to visualize that data from a bird’s eye perspective, and artists are very good at that. We’re hoping these salons will be one way to make that happen.”

Art+Science Salons will be held several times a year. The second one will be Thursday, April 18, at Tacoma Art Museum, 6–8 p.m. It will feature a panel discussion with artists and scientists. Information on further events will be posted at www.pugetsound.edu/artsci.

A new ArtSci Committee at Puget Sound is organizing the events. The committee includes Suzanne Holland, John B. Magee Professor of Science and Values; Siddharth Ramakrishnan; Elise Richman, associate professor of art; and Peter Wimberger, professor of biology and director of Slater Museum of Natural History. For more information about Art+Science projects contact artsci@pugetsound.edu.

The endowed Jennie M. Caruthers Chair in Neuroscience, held by Siddharth Ramakrishnan, was funded through the generosity of Marvin H. Caruthers P'02, distinguished professor of biochemistry and chemistry at University of Colorado Boulder, in memory of his late wife Jennie M. Caruthers. The gift was made as part of the $125 million One [of a Kind] campaign.

For more about Art+Science at Puget Sound visit: www.pugetsound.edu/artsci
Information is also available by sending an email message to artsci@pugetsound.edu.

To read the Arches magazine article about Siddharth Ramakrishnan visit: http://www.pugetsound.edu/files/pages/arches/arches_summer_2012/files/assets/seo/page13.html

For more about One [of a Kind]: The Campaign for University of Puget Sound, visit: www.pugetsound.edu/one

Press photos of examples of art and science collaborations are available by contacting: sskeel@pugetsound.edu

Photos on page: Top right: Ramakrishnan collaboration with artist Victoria Vesna about hox genes, created at the Art/Sci Center and Lab at University of California, Los Angeles; Above left: Splash, a work by Maria Jost. Above right: Badlands, by Vaughn Bell.

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