Monday, July 1, 2013

Artists and Scientists Experience a Similar Phenomenon

Ariel E. Lugo, director of the Forest Service’s International Institute of  Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico.Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

I recently have been interviewing various artists and scientists from Colorado Art Ranches, El Toro Wilderness residency in Puerto Rico. In particular I noticed that everyone has been extremely excited to let me know how their experience went.  After speaking to a few, I feel inspired to further my interdisciplinary art/science career.

 In El Toro, Ariel Lugo director of the International institute of Tropical Diversity, and board member of the Society for Ecological Restoration, noted from his experience that the highlight of the month was the changing perception between artists and scientist.
One of the questions I asked Ariel was what he believed to be the highlight of the month. 

A: “My role was to interact with the artists over the weekends. I participated in the synthesis and introductory parts of the program. The Highlight form me of the interaction, was the perceptions that the artist had about the complexity of nature. I found out quickly in my interactions with them that we spoke the same language. That we both deal with complexity and we are both sensitive to complexity. Another interesting thing is that we are both interested in how humans interact with natural systems. That part really amazed me because we got into some heavy duty discussion about how nature and humans interact and develop novelty, ya know, new systems of nature. The depth of the discussions and the topics of the discussions, they were great for me.  For me, science is only for scientists, but to discover that the artists are looking at the same phenomenon you are, but you just happen to be looking from a different perspective; that was ohhh wow how interesting! I have a lot of respect for artists because they are similar to scientist in the sense that they are both creative people and they are both trying tackle complex situations and trying to interpret them through some type of model. The models of course are different of course but the objectives are the same.”

Then I asked him what the most absurd situation he experienced at El Toro?

A: “Well I told the artists that they made me feel stupid because you go with the artists and they start asking you questions that you can’t answer.. They ask you questions like, what is this, what is that? There was one women that I took into the forest, and she asked me so many questions that I couldn’t answer because when you look at a complex system for the first time of course your eyes, they are looking at everything so she would point out to a color or to a substrate or to an object and ask a question and as a trained scientist when you don’t know the answer you have to say I don’t know because we don’t try to speculate. Personally, I am not the super naturalist, I am a systems ecologists. I am looking at the forest and I see functions in a visual process, and as the artists they are confronting you with the pieces of the forests.  So to me I felt dim-witted because I could not answer most of the questions that they were posing to me. It was an unusual situation because you always think that you are in control and when they start barraging you with questions that you can’t answer, it can really throw you off.”

One of the goals for Colorado Art Ranch is to create these unsuspected scenarios for artists and scientists. I think the El Toro Residency really kept these guys on their toes.  Part of the magic of the month was artists experiencing a sense of wonder while viewing the forest through a scientific eye, and for the scientists it was enlightening to rediscover what they do through an artistic eye.

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