The University of Arizona

Series Promotes Conversations Between Artists, Scientists

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications | January 26, 2012

The UA School of Art's visiting artist and lecture series is designed to increase public understanding of the important role contemporary art holds in addressing critically important issues of the day.

Josiah McElheny's
Josiah McElheny's "Island Universe, 2008," installed at the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain. The five-piece sculpture includes chromed aluminum, hand-blown glass and electric lights and is designed to illustrate the Big Bang theory. (Photo courtesy of the UA School of Art), Sierra Nevada, 2011, is an aerial photograph with digital mapping in pastel, oil and ink. Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison will discuss their work and issues around ecology and land use during their visit to UA in March. (Photo courtesy of the UA School of Art), UA art professor Ellen McMahon said she is encouraged by the University's push for new discussions, initiatives and research collaborations between the arts and sciences.
Josiah McElheny's
Josiah McElheny's "Island Universe, 2008," installed at the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain. The five-piece sculpture includes chromed aluminum, hand-blown glass and electric lights and is designed to illustrate the Big Bang theory. (Photo courtesy of the UA School of Art), Sierra Nevada, 2011, is an aerial photograph with digital mapping in pastel, oil and ink. Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison will discuss their work and issues around ecology and land use during their visit to UA in March. (Photo courtesy of the UA School of Art), UA art professor Ellen McMahon said she is encouraged by the University's push for new discussions, initiatives and research collaborations between the arts and sciences.
Josiah McElheny's
Josiah McElheny's "Island Universe, 2008," installed at the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain. The five-piece sculpture includes chromed aluminum, hand-blown glass and electric lights and is designed to illustrate the Big Bang theory. (Photo courtesy of the UA School of Art), Sierra Nevada, 2011, is an aerial photograph with digital mapping in pastel, oil and ink. Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison will discuss their work and issues around ecology and land use during their visit to UA in March. (Photo courtesy of the UA School of Art), UA art professor Ellen McMahon said she is encouraged by the University's push for new discussions, initiatives and research collaborations between the arts and sciences.

The final lectures in a series partially supported by the National Endowment for the Arts are being held at the University of Arizona this semester.

For years, the UA School of Art has maintained a visiting artist and scholar series. The last two years, the series has been intensely focused on expanding public understanding of the importance of contemporary art.

And in particular, the series – which will continue into the future – was an attempt to draw connections between art and science, showing in stark resolution the impact both have had and will continue to have globally. 

"I am interested in how artists and scientists look at the same thing through different lenses," said Ellen McMahon, the UA School of Art professor who chairs the faculty committee that designed the two-year program.

"This year's focus is on artists and scholars who are working with different scientific disciplines that focus on environmental and ecological issues," McMahon said.

The NEA-funded series culminates this semester with "Present As Future Science, Technology and the Visual Arts" and four final lectures by internationally known artists, writers and curators.  

The next presentation will be by Josiah McElheny, a MacArthur Fellows Program "genius" grant recipient who resides in New York City. McElheny, featured on the PBS series, Art 21, is best known for his massive installations made of hand-blown glass that are based on astronomical phenomena. 

He will present his lecture, "An Exhibition Called Some Pictures of the Infinite," Jan. 30 at 5:30 p.m. in Room 108 of the UA Center for Creative Photography, 1030 N. Olive Road. 

All lectures will be held at the same time and location and are free and open to the public. 

"This is a particularly notable group of artists," McMahon said. "They will serve as inspiring models for the University and the community for ways that the arts and sciences, intersect, interact and inform each other in the process.”

Other visitors are: 

  • Feb. 20: Matthew Coolidge, who founded the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles, is a photographer and curator. He will present his lecture, "Anthropogeomorphological Extrapolations: The Center for Land Use Interpretation on the Ground." 
  • March 26: Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison work together with the public to understand issues of ecology and land restoration. They will present their lecture, "The Force Majeure: The Peninsula of Europe, The Tibetan Plateau and Sierra Nevada." 
  • April 9: Lucy R. Lippard, a writer and curator, is known for her contributions to the areas of feminist art and feminist politics. Lippard, who will present "Weather Report: Art and Climate Change," based on an exhibition she curated in 2007. Lippard also has been heavily involved in interdisciplinary efforts centered on global climate change. 

Over the two years, and with the NEA funding, the program supported 16 artists, scholars and curators from around the nation who, in addition to giving public lectures, met with students and faculty members.

An average of 200 people attend the public lectures.

What each brings is a contribution to the emergent University-wide discussion and emphasis on connections between art and scientific disciplines, McMahon said.

"Usually, art is thought of as a way to illustrate science or a way to translate science so that people can understand it better," McMahon said, pointing to graphic design and illustration as examples. 

But the series features artists who are looking more critically at the intersections between the arts and sciences. 

"Culturally, I think we're in love with science, and a lot of that is because of new technology," McMahon said.

"The danger is when we believe everything can be measured and understood," she added. "The arts work with the mysterious aspects of human experience that elude understanding through scientific means." 

Though the NEA funding period is coming to a close, the UA School of Art is already planning for next year's series, "Dwelling from Space to Place in the Visual Arts."

"Lectures will address the importance of the idea of home in our cultural identity and collective consciousness, focusing on multiple facets of human occupation and the reclamation of spaces," McMahon said. 

McMahon noted that the financial crisis, political upheaval and environmental catastrophes of late "have profoundly affected our awareness of our relationship to the domains we inhabit."

Contacts

Ellen McMahon

UA School of Art

520-621-1493

emcmahon@email.arizona.edu