It is a rarity to find pretty much anything that combines the arts and sciences, so when we heard about the 6×6 exhibit, we had to check it out for ourselves. Held at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, the exhibit is the product of 6 artists and 6 scientists working together to present pieces that represent the ecological marvels and challenges of the southwest, while also exploring the social and cultural impacts they have had on artistic expression, scientific inquiry and the community at large.
I agree, the premise of this exhibit is really cool, and definitely fits at an art museum located in a research-heavy university, and in a town whose art scene (though multifaceted) has strong naturalist tendencies. The artists come from different disciplines: from oil painting to poetry, photography, and bookmaking; the scientists have a range of focus that’s equally wide: from genetics to, ecology, geology to entomology, and more.
Since everyone in the exhibit is based in the Sonoran Desert, the projects focused closely on the Borderlands region. Most veered into the Gulf of California and Northern Mexico, and others kept close to Tucson focusing on the Santa Cruz River and the Sonoran Desert flora.
The Isle of Sauromalus
This work by Heather Green and Taylor Edwards is a great representation of the regional arts and sciences of the Southwest up by using personal field notes as a narrative to outline Heather and Taylor’s pursuit to document the Chuckwalla lizard which is native to Punta La Cholla of Sonora, Mexico. The piece confronts the viewer early with a banner-like array of thin mica sheets engraved with the DNA sequence of the Chuckwalla Lizard which is complemented by scientific journal entries documenting both signs of the Chuckwalla, and the tangible evidence of human impact on the otherwise remote area. Fragments of shells, seeds, and bone are mixed in a display case with shards of a Corona glass, screws, and aluminum providing a reminder that the extensive reach of the human hand touches even the most isolated environments.
The collections of field data couldn’t help but remind us of our annual surveys and efforts to document the recovery of our most vital ecosystems. Hannah and Taylor’s journey parallels our efforts and emulates our scientific undertakings that are powered by our personal connection to the land and species we live alongside and value so highly.
The slates of super thin mica also drew me in to look deeply at the first installation in the gallery. Engraved with the A, T, C, and G’s of the genetic code and the detailed shadows cast on the wall are delicate, beautiful and make someone like me want to know more. The books below are travel diary booklets are so detailed and well-crafted.
The beauty of this project is in its meticulous recording, the depth of detail in letterpress as a medium, and the personal notes of being in a remote desert-on-the-sea landscape. The collection of human artifacts, like rusted sardine cans and broken ceramics, are presented along chuckwalla scat make it seem that animal and human are not so different.
Hidden Water: Pozos of the Gran Desierto
This work is another one of our favorites. This piece showcases paintings, time-lapse videos, and displays native plants to document the natural landscape of pozos or salt water springs that have been the destination for the Tohono O’odham’s salt pilgrimage for millennia. The piece really speaks to the ancient connection between the Tohono O’odham people and the pozos and how these ancient oases have shaped their culture and livelihoods.
The landscapes by Benjamin M. Johnson are so warm, like an early morning glow—they are luminous enough to feel like gazing out a window.
Living River: Flow of life
One project specifically deserves a close look by anyone who follows our Living River work. Kathleen Velo, a photographer, has been making images using the light that infiltrates the water in rivers throughout the West. I’ve actually known Kate since before I was born because our families are old friends, and spent a lot of time outdoors together, from weeks rafting the San Juan River to short afternoon hikes in the Catalinas. We call almost everything Kate makes “pinhole” images in my family, but whether the process termed here as “chromogenic prints” still involves the taped-up cardboard oatmeal cylinders that she showed me long ago isn’t so important. The results are ethereal, swimming pool colored prints with strange impressions of the underwater river world. She and scientist, Michael Bogan, who presented at our Santa Cruz River Research Days this year, took readings of water quality and macroinvertebrate samples—and made images at eight points along the river, and a few more in temporal flows in the Rillito.
By categorizing the bugs in the water, they’re able to portray the differences in water quality because some insects are more sensitive to the pollution they won’t be found unless the water is clean. The more pinky-red in the pie charts painted on the gallery walls, the more questionable the water quality. The microscope images of these bugs are a fun bonus, and the map of city streets makes it easy to see just how close to home this research and the flowing river is.
If you like this piece, take a look at our recent Living River Report for more information on the current state of the Santa Cruz and our efforts to restore its valuable ecosystems.
Both of us have even more of an appreciation for the value of combining the arts and sciences in the effort to preserve the unique ecosystems and landscapes in the Southwest. We recommend that you check it out!
The 6×6 exhibit will be up until March 31st, 2019 and a public reception is taking place on February 28 at 5pm where you’d likely be able to meet the participants. Don’t forget that the UA is easily accessed by streetcar or bike for a sustainable mode of transit!