When science encounters art

by Femke de Jong

Collaborations in science are great, especially within a group as closely knit as OSNAP, but sometimes  the most surprising things come out of totally different kinds of collaborations. I saw beautiful examples of this in a special exhibit at the Boston Science Museum during my time as a postdoc at WHOI. Collaborations between scientists and artists led to new or different interpretations of the things we know. An example is the interpretation of the work of colleague Larry Pratt on turbulent torusses, the equations of which were somewhat intimidating in powerpoint presentations, but the art interpretation is beautiful and may even help us visualize those nasty equations.

photo from Larry Pratt’s website at http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=142036

I recently got the opportunity to join a similar collaboration as this summer the island of Texel will host an art tour called S.E.A. or Science Encounters Art [link https://www.sea-texel.nl/]. In this project, artist are paired with scientists from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, also based on Texel. The artful interpretations of the scientist’s research will be displayed outdoors on the island for three months (an added complication on a windy island). Around these sculptures, other forms of art like performance and poetry, will also be featured. Since I might actually be around for most of summer this year (no OSNAP cruise for us) this sounds like a really cool thing to experience.

The particular collaboration I’m involved in at S.E.A. is a little bit special because it does not involve one artist. I was matched with a group of students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy of Art in Amsterdam. At the start of this project, during a visit of students to Texel, I was invited to give a presentation about my research. I explained about the ocean circulation, the OSNAP project and showed some videos of how we go about doing measurements at sea. This resulted in a ton of further questions, which I was happy to answer. Alter that week the students presented their first thoughts on possible projects. For the students this is a learning experience as well as an art project as this is their first commissioned project. Besides coming up with an inspiring idea they need to think about practical realization, budgets, logistics (does anyone think this almost starts to sounds like organizing fieldwork…?). 

A few weeks after the first introductions I was invited to the Rietveld Academy to come and listen to the presentations of the students plans. It was great to hear the very different interpretations and links they had made. Plans varied from man-sized wavy blue slides that represented current motions (and may feature some during rainy days) to an ironic video documentary on fake science. Currently the students are working out their plans in more details to see which ones can be realized. There will not be enough space and money to accommodate all the student projects, but the plan is to build as many as possible. Next to the students I’m also working with Alkmaar’s city poet, Joris Brussel. I invite everyone to come see and read (or hear) the results on Texel this summer.

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