Nature of Interpretation: Information and Abstraction
At the Nature Lab, we use a range of technology and equipment to communicate the natural world through the visualization of data. Visiting artists and students translate their observations into captivating creations that represent their understanding of systems in nature.
We encourage the synthesis of the arts and sciences to educate, increase environmental awareness and responsibility, and stimulate exploration in natural spaces.
Some projects we’ve facilitated include: 3D animations of Narragansett Bay using LIDAR data, use of the Nature Lab’s Edgertronic High-Speed Camera to tell stories of our aquariums’ marine life, and our Macropod device to capture the intricacies of native plants and specimens.
Over the 2020 Wintersession, we welcomed Brown University professor, Leah Beeferman, and her studio art course, “Nature of Interpretation: Information and Abstraction.” Leah prompted the the following guiding inquiry, “What can an artist convey through an artwork, and how is that information different than what a scientist can convey in a report, data set, or image? What can a scientist gain from artistic thinking?”
Leah’s course drew inspiration from science and scientific images as conceptual frameworks for making and looking at art images. Her students were tasked in editing, manipulating, and constructing a series of digital artwork in response to the methodologies explored in the course. Leah asserts:
“Art and science are both practices of observation and interpretation. In different ways, and to different ends, art and science each involve careful acts of looking, evaluating, and translating observations into new forms — be it an artwork or a theory or equation. Scientific images function as informational representations of the world for those who know how to read them, and as ambiguous, abstract forms to everyone else. Artworks, ostensibly open to interpretation, are still coded with ‘insider’ information, material processes, and art historical or societal references. So, does the intended use or end-result of an ‘observation’ determine whether it is ‘art’ or ‘science’?”
To test these theories, students were taught how to use some of the Nature Lab’s imaging and observational tools, like the cameras, scanners, and microscopes.
They received supplementary guidance from a host of scientists at Brown, as well as a studio visit with an artist to gain varying perspectives regarding the mediums of data representation and image interpretation.
Brown University student Yoli Lozano, shared her experience with us:
“I came into Leah's class as an artist with limited STEM experience (but a lot of enthusiasm and interest!), so learning about digital imaging in fields unfamiliar to me in a way that was exciting and consumable was extremely rewarding. Using the Nature Lab was my favorite part of the class by far--especially the microscopes. Even though they are technically scientific equipment, I never felt pressured to view the material I was using as anything but an artist. I didn't really understand what I was looking at most of the time, but I was fascinated by the colors, shapes, and lines, nonetheless.
In fact, for my final project, I took many microscopic images of shed gecko skin and dragonfly wings in order to create the digital paintings seen below. I loved the circular patterns of the scales and the linear ones of the wings, so I traced them on Photoshop and layered them on top of each other. Despite being originally ‘scientific images,’ I was able to convert them into visual conversations about color, line, and composition. I think I had a stigma of sorts against using such material in my artwork because I thought I didn't have the right to use images I didn't understand (as scientific material), but this class allowed me to dismantle that idea by giving me the resources and information to simply get over it.”