For most, 68,000 years is a long, long time — long enough for an ice sheet to form in Antarctica. But it’s a rather hard number to grasp for ordinary humans. So that’s where art comes in: specifically, artist Anna McKee, who creates semi-abstract installations that put you metaphorically deep inside the ice core that’s melting at an alarming rate in Antarctica. It’s art tightly woven with science, which is perfect for the next Art-Sci Salon at the University of Puget Sound, where McKee is one of four guest speakers (two artists, two geoscientists) who will talk about ice, climate change and how art helps us see science better.
“I’m interested in creating work that might elicit an emotional response to climate change that’s not about fear or alarm,” says the mixed-media artist, whose recent and upcoming installations are inspired by her observations on ice core field work in Canada and Antarctica. “And it’s about taking a step back and seeing our place in terms of earth’s history, where we fit in.”
The Art-Sci Salons have been held for more than a year, a collaboration between the University of Puget Sound’s art and science departments, with some help from Tacoma Art Museum. Involving speakers, presentations and the chance to mingle and talk, they offer an unusual forum where creative and science types can meet on the same ground from a different angle.
As well as McKee — an artist with a degree in landscape architecture, who works closely with the Isolab at the University of Washington to get the data for her installations — there’s painter Cynthia Camlin from Western Washington University, whose large-scale landscapes of glaciers meditate on a changing world through color, form and texture. The two scientists are Dan Shugar, a photographer and geomorphologist at the University of Washington Tacoma who studies how glaciers, rivers and landslides respond to climatic conditions; and Kat Huybers, glaciologist at Pacific Lutheran University, who uses computer models to study how climate change is expressed in lakes, glaciers and polar regions.
For McKee, who traveled on an ice core study expedition to the West Antarctica Ice Sheet in 2009 under a National Science Foundation Artist and Writers Grant, art offers a unique way to express science. Her Deep Ice Reliquaries (recently seen at the Museum of Northwest Art) use water samples from each layer of the ice core, encased in glass capsules and either represented by or attached to long hangings of silk. The ice sheet “Reliquary” coming soon to the Nevada Museum of Art involves 3,405 such capsules sewn onto silk hangings stretching more than 22 feet, representing the temperature history of the ice sheet over its 68,000-year history.
“It looks like a very abstract graph,” says McKee, “reflecting the instability of the ice that’s coming out of that science right now.”
“Anna’s done an amazing job of capturing more than just the aesthetic beauty of the polar regions,” says Huybers, who has seen McKee’s work in several places. “She takes it to another level, where you can see the underlying beauty not just of the place but the dynamics of the ice and elegance of the climate system.”
Huybers also points out that art and science have creativity in common, and that art has the ability to evoke scientific principles and make them more understandable than traditional journal articles or data — and to reach a very different audience.
And for McKee, art helps us deal with science’s discoveries.
“Most of us don’t have a lot of power to address (the issue of climate change),” says McKee. “We can minimize our own footprints, but it’s bigger than that. My work is a way to deal with the enormity of that.”
When: 6-8 p.m. Jan. 28, also Feb. 18 and April 21.
Where: Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma (Jan. 28 and April 21); Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma (Feb. 18).
Includes: Food and drinks, meeting artists/scientists, talks and question-and-answer session (6:30 p.m.)
Information: 253-879-3100, pugetsound.edu/artsci.