Few associate characteristics of science with those of art. Whereas present-day science is often viewed as straightforward and stoic, art is commonly seen through drastic forms of self-expression and abstract philosophies. Like comparing Bill Nye the Science Guy to Pablo Picasso, conventional stereotypes are how we have come to separate these two worlds.
What if we are deceived? Could art and science be more alike than people imagine and, if so, what would it be like?
For those who seek the answer, look no further than the Beall Center for Art and Technology’s newest opening exhibit.
This hidden gallery within UC Irvine’s School of the Arts kicks off a new year with cutting edge visual and audio technology from East Coast artist and educator, Andrea Polli.
‘Atmospherics/Weather Works,’ running through March 17, may sound more like a weather report than a collaboration of abstract art pieces but beware, for first impressions may be deceiving. The show is comprised of numerous videos projected onto black walls with unique soundtracks manipulated by the latest audio technology. Focusing primarily on weather and climate patterns, Polli uses media such as speakers, LCD displays, documentaries and Web sites to enhance the viewer’s experience of periodic weather changes. Her work is based off scientific field studies from an array of globally diverse scientists, which makes it a hybrid of art and science.
‘My interest as an artist is in how the interpretation of this data impacts life aesthetically, socially and politically. This exploration of information about the natural world is what I call ‘ecomedia,” Polli has said.
How does ecomedia work? Upon entering the Beall, one is greeted with sequences of video stills so discreet that only through intense inspection can any visual changes be seen.
Her piece ‘T2’ exemplifies such a need for attention by combining a panel of three different images that make up a horizontal picture of developments in ocean patterns. Based off sequences of real-time wave and wind data collected from studies in Port Taranaki, New Zealand, the purpose of each frame is to capture and increase awareness of our dependence on the ocean. Adjustments are hard to see due to the mixture of multiple elements like flying words and changing lights, but when focusing on one particular frame, it is easy to notice how the image of a couple walking their dog will suddenly turn into a lonely figure facing a vast horizon.
Headphones accompany most of Polli’s pieces. ‘People connect to sound emotionally and it is a memory trigger,’ she says. Therefore, as a part of her entire ensemble, the exhibit is surrounded by speakers dangling in mid-air which produce eerie vibrations representing different stages of a hurricane.
Sound is also a centerpiece in ‘Heat and the Heartbeat of the City,’ in which viewers interact with the art through cyberspace and videos. The work focuses on global warming issues surrounding heat wave studies in New York City’s Central Park. Each link provides information about predicted increases to heat waves within a 30-year period and is accompanied by models of actual heat ‘sounds’ coming from the environment.
Through headphones, the audience experiences a crescendo of peaking future heat waves that produce similar anxieties to those from the popular environmental documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ Rather than just seeing the future, Polli evidently wants her audience to hear it as well.
By using such an approach, Polli believes that her work will convince the general public to become more sensitive to both political and environmental messages from their surroundings.
With her background as the director of the Integrated Media Arts MFA program at Hunter College, she is keenly aware of how art affects students. For her, teaching influences her choice of media, pushing her to explore new techniques in order to connect to a technology-dependent generation.
‘What I try to do is stay on the cutting edge,’ she says. ‘Artists have a responsibility to know as much as they can because I think the public counts on their knowledge to give them the experience,’ said Polli.
As Andrea Polli’s artwork shows, audio-visual representations can pose questions that push science further, and vice-versa.