ASKXXI: Arts+Science Knowledge - Building and Sharing in the XXI Century Featured

In 2004, under serendipitous circumstances after my first year of graduate school in UW’s Biology Department, I found myself at Friday Harbor Labs taking the Comparative Embryology course taught by Richard Strathmann and George von Dassow.

Having moved to Seattle from Chile the previous year, I’d roughly navigated the first year of grad school exploring my role in scientific research and my overall interests and passions in scientific illustration, pedagogy and visual arts. I found in the Comparative Embryology course a uniquely fruitful playground, led by inspiring and knowledgeable mentors with whom I could explore the beautiful diversity of life’s earliest stages. In a pedagogical world driven by graded tests, exams and reports, I had the rare opportunity to reflect, at the same time both deeply and playfully, on the ecology and evolution of embryos’ development. The only stated expectation of the course was to “look very closely,” ask questions, and remain open to gaining new understanding while in close proximity to the tools and community to support that process.

I spent most of those five intense weeks looking through a microscope, taking notes and photos, and doing detailed drawings of embryos. All in the spirit of comprehending their developmental processes, spatially understanding their forms, and theoretically and visually exploring evolutionary ideas – a gem of a class! Although trying to understand the world through art and science had always being my passion, it was not until that course that I had a truly inquiring space to use a combined set of artistic and scientific tools to explore and understand nature. It will not come as a surprise then – similarly to what has happened to many generations of students that have taken courses at Friday Harbor Labs – that this was a pivotal, life-changing experience for me.

Since then, having a fertile playground where artistic and scientific tools are used to explore the construction of knowledge has remained a quest in my scientific and artistic career. In this pursuit, I have concentrated on exploring the emergent properties that arise from the interactions of both worlds. I’ve taught classes in science communication, visualization of science and scientific illustration, and I have participated in several art+science projects that extended beyond outreach or artistic activities. Fortunately, I have found many kindred spirits along the way.

Looking at things very closely is the first step for asking questions and re-imagining and visualizing research. In ASKXXI we are connecting a series of field stations, study sites and environments to start exploring key environmental issues with our first cohort of participants.

Two years ago FHL gave me the opportunity to connect with Genevieve Tremblay, a digital media artist, design educator, natural inquirer of knowledge-building processes, and curator working at the intersection of art, science and emerging technologies. She had been initially inspired to spend time at FHL by Adam Summers’ visual imaging, and her residency at the Whiteley Center’s Macfarlane Art Studio allowed her to ignite new collaborations. Among them, she worked with Drew Harvell to create holographic imaging of the Blaschka glass invertebrate models using Microsoft HoloLens. Since then, many virtual meetings with Genevieve and many conversations and work sessions with inspiring artists and scientists from Chile and the USA (Nelida Pohl, Belén Gallardo, Fredy Diaz, Jeff Brice, Jack Delap, Martha Groom, Becca Price, Adam Summers and many others) have birthed the program “ASKXXI: Arts+Science Knowledge-building and sharing in the XXI century.”

So, in 2018 – fourteen years after that seminal class and two years since the newly-ignited interactions – I will return to FHL as part of a team* of interdisciplinary artists and scientists from Chile and the USA, in a program that aims to foster USA-Chile collaboration in art, ecological science, and traditional and emerging story-telling technologies. It focuses on the marine and terrestrial ecology of Chile and the Pacific Northwest. This ambitious inter-disciplinary and inter-hemispheric program will serve as a platform to build a pioneering community that seeks, through innovative pedagogical methodologies, to advance excellence in interdisciplinary connections between the arts and ecological science.

Jack Delap, Jeff Brice and Genevieve Tremblay (from the ASKXXI-US team) and I during a visit to FHL in 2017. We visited field sites and laboratories, gave updates on the HoloLens visualization project for the Blaschka's glass invertebrate models curated by Drew Harvell, and planned our 2018 activities. Pictures also show a few of our amazing science and art advisors: Drew Harvell, Adam Summers, Curtis Wong and Ginny Ruffner.

Our plan is to integrate new ways of understanding, visualizing, rethinking and communicating the scientific research done in key natural environments, in topics that range from conservation (PNW) and invasiveness (Chile) of salmonids, to climate change, toxic algal blooms and wildfires. This 2018 year-long pilot program, which is partially funded by the USA Embassy in Chile and sponsored by Fulbright and an array of academic institutions in both countries**, will include a cohort of 10 diverse Chilean professionals with interdisciplinary experience from science, art or design backgrounds.

The participants will go through a five-stage process:

(1) Immersion in the intersection between science, art and technology

(2) Learn the fundamentals of ecological sciences, visual arts narratives, and their traditional and technological tools

(3) Participate in a three-week “art and science bootcamp” in the USA exploring, among other things, virtual reality, 3D imaging and data visualization tools

(4) Participate in a two-week “art and science bootcamp” in Chile

(5) Design and develop a science, art and technology project based on contingent environmental issues

During our June 2018 USA bootcamp, we will explore and learn several state-of-the-art digital technologies for analyzing and displaying data such as data visualization, 3D printing, and virtual reality.

These final projects will be part of a multimedia exhibit that will travel through Chile and the USA. This pilot year will also allow us to strengthen our network of collaborators, getting us ready for the next phase in 2019. That program will bring USA fellows to Chile where they will engage with our first-year cohort of innovators to continue developing new ways of seeing and communicating the natural world.

Like my experience in that 2004 Comparative Embryology course, the ASKXXI program is a knowledge-building playground embedded in natural places where scientific research is done at the highest level and supported by experts in their fields – a place where interdisciplinary thinkers can explore and re-think knowledge itself. Art+Science initiatives are growing exponentially around the world in an urge to reimagine the critical challenges we confront today. Friday Harbor Laboratories, with its privileged location since 1904, has always been a leader in research, education and conservation. Through the Whiteley Center and the efforts of committed scientists, many art+science initiatives have taken and are taking place with fantastic results.

For these reasons, FHL was an obvious choice when deciding where ASKXXI participants should start their exploration of the PNW. We envision ASKXXI as a platform that will launch our innovators into the art+science interdisciplinary networks of the XXI century, creating a community that will grow in many different directions. We are excited for the opportunity that FHL’s Director, faculty and staff are giving us this summer of 2018, and we are happy to invite the FHL community to connect and help us create bridges in knowledge.

For more information on ASKXXI, please visit or the ASKIXXI 2018 online brochure.

* ASKXXI team leaders

Chile: Nelida Pohl, Fernanda Oyarzún, Belén Gallardo and Fredy Diaz.

USA: Genevieve Tremblay, Jeff Brice, Jack DeLap, and Geraldine Ondrizek.

ASKXXI scientists and artist advisors

Chile: Antonio Brante, Juan Armesto, Miriam Fernandez, Daniel Varela, Konrad Gorski.

USA: Adam Summers, Martha Groom, Becca Price, Curtis Wong, Nathan DiPietro, Jevin West, Afroditi Psarra, Maya Petric, Ginny Ruffner.

** Chilean leading institutions:

Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB) and its biological station Senda Darwin (Foundation and Biological Station), Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción: Interactive Biology Lab (BiLab), Estación de Biología Marina Abate Juan Ignacio Molina Estación Costera de Lenga, The Center for Research on Biodiversity and Sustainable Environments (CIBAS), and Dirección de Extensión Artística y Cultural de la UCSC.

Chilean partners:

ECIM, The Coastal Marine Research Station, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Centro i-mar (Center for Research and Development of Coastal Resources and Environments), Universidad de Los Lagos, US Embassy Chile, and Fulbright Chile.

USA leading institutions:

University of Washington (Bothell), Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, and Friday Harbor Laboratories, College of the Environment, University of Washington.

USA partners:

Microsoft Research, Reed College, University of Puget Sound, Centrum, and Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

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