Date: March 3 – August 12, 2012
Partner: Ontario Science Centre
Venue: !dea Gallery at the Ontario Science Centre – map
Project Members: Alyssa Gomori, Rebecca Michaels, Susan Pang, and Naomi Rupke
Spark! The Heart of Art and Science, on display March 3 to August 12, 2012 in the !dea Gallery at the Ontario Science Centre (OSC), is the result of an eight-month process of planning, extensive networking, and dedicated teamwork. Our goals at the start of the project were to create an exhibition that:
Ana Klasnja, the curator of the OSC’s !dea Gallery, suggested a broad topic for the exhibition based on MaRS’s Tao of Discovery videos: to examine the creative lives of emerging Toronto researchers by exploring their artistic interests outside of the lab. Meetings with scientists formed the initial part of our research process. Our first meeting was challenging to facilitate since the researchers found many of our questions difficult to answer. We did not meet any scientists who produced art in their leisure time. Many scientists replied with a simple “No” when asked if artistic interests inspired them.
We learned far more through asking scientists to describe the creative elements of their work and what motivated them to continue working tirelessly even when success seemed infinitely far away. We were able to refine our questions to create a dialogue that was more meaningful and to focus on what material we could display from scientists: visual results from their research (rather than the art they had created). This process resulted in a collection of vibrant images and videos for display. However, we did not simply want to juxtapose scientific visuals with artworks inspired by biomedical research. We also wanted to communicate what we had learned about creativity in science through the research process without twisting the words of the people we interviewed. We decided that the most direct and interesting way to do this was by including a quote from each researcher we had interviewed.
Finding and selecting artists
We began the Curatorial process by conducting research and interviewing emerging scientists from various biomedical labs in Toronto, several affiliated with MaRS. Through these interviews, we discovered that it was the spark of creativity present in both science and art that should be the focus of this exhibition. Our research resulted in a collection of visually stunning scientific images as well as scientifically–‐ inspired artworks and biomedical animations that bridge the fields of art and science. We also acquired numerous quotes from artists and scientists that demonstrated the blurring of boundaries between art and science. The artworks, visual scientific output, and quotes served as the basis of Spark!’s content. The resulting exhibition has no start or finish, but rather a continuous flow of ideas, creativity, and inspiration.
The artists showcased in Spark! were identified through a fairly short process that involved pursuing our network connections, interviewing OCAD University professors, and an element of serendipity. Matthew Brower put us in contact with Laura Moore, whose limestone sculptures of Unknown Viruses were immediately heralded by the OSC curatorial team as “iconic”. A contact from Victoria referred Rebecca to Britt Wray who was a Masters student at OCAD University. Her playful interactive fabric DIY Body installation is a central focus of the exhibit, though it was challenging to install and issues concerning its ephemeral nature are still under discussion. Wray’s work also reaches outside the walls of the OSC through workshops and an invitation to the public to create their own body parts from her patterns. The OSC has supported her in this effort by inviting her to do workshops at the OSC later this summer, thus adding an element of educational programming to our exhibit. Naomi discovered the third artist, Matt Stata, through her social network. Stata’s microscopic photographs merge his scientific interest as a student of evolutionary biology with his artistic eye and thus fit perfectly with the theme of Spark!.
The Biomedical Communications (BMC) department at the University of Toronto was identified through sheer serendipity; a fellow student in Curating Science referred Rebecca to her roommate, Bonnie Scott, a BMC Masters candidate. The vibrant animated video compilation from BMC illustrates cells communicating via proteins and chemical reactions in the body and truly embraces the blurring of the art/science boundary, creating a visual anchor within the exhibit. Bonnie also connected us to Dr. Arthur Olsen, whose 3D–‐printed self–‐assembling viruses in jars are a simple, yet effective interactive element in the exhibit.
There was no formal jury process for accepting artworks; if the curatorial teams from U of T and the OSC were in favour of a piece and if the OSC felt it would be acceptable to both their audience and the strict safety and technical constraints under which they operate, then it was accepted. Two proposed works were rejected on technical grounds: an interactive video and sound installation by Britt Wray and a video game by Bonnie Scott. Both were deemed too digitally unstable to withstand the pressures of enduring public interaction on the OSC’s floor.
In order to tie together these diverse exhibition components – scientific images, BMC animations, videos, text, quotes, and artworks – Spark! required a consistent and comprehensive graphic design. Ana connected us to Sheridan College professors and graphic design students in January 2012. In order to provide real–‐world graphic design experience, the professors organized the students into four design teams with each group responsible for pitching their vision for Spark! Ana organized a meeting where we presented our exhibition proposal to familiarize the students with our goals. Each team designed a complete graphic design package including a logo, colour scheme, and exhibition design treatment. We selected Team 7 as the winning graphic designers for Spark!. Their graphic design perfectly fits our vision for the exhibit and brought all the various elements together seamlessly. We worked closely with the Sheridan students to adjust the way contributor’s works were displayed and to tweak the design of the acknowledgments panel to create a finished product we were all very happy with.
In summary, Spark! The Heart of Art and Science adhered to the mandate of the !dea Gallery and exceeded its original goals by creating a fun exhibition with several features For visitors to interact with, in keeping with the OSC’s target youth audience. It required a tremendous amount of coordination, collaboration, and communication between several Institutions, artists, scientists, and the Science Centre itself. The resulting exhibition visually and intellectually blurs the boundaries between art and science, and creates a forum for discussion: Are art and science really so different?