Art and science: Reunited and it feels so good

BAR HARBOR —The connections between art and science may not be immediately apparent. The fine artist interprets his or her physical or interior world on such a subjective, personal level; the scientist objectively gathers data in an effort to figure out how the physical and interior worlds work.

But look again, and connections begin to reveal themselves.

Both artist and scientist are inspired by the wonders and the mysteries of the universe, from the immense grandeur of the heavens to the tiniest particles of matter. Each discipline attempts to understand and communicate the amazing story of life and each is changed and enhanced by the works and perspectives of the other.

For the past five years, the MDI Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove has been making that theoretical connection a literal one, in some instances actually pairing artists with scientists, inviting them to tell the same story from unique perspectives. Lab scientists such as Vicki Losick, Jim Coffman, Ben King and Voot P. Yin study tiny creatures such as a C. elegans – a tiny transparent worm – or the little striped zebra fish to plumb the mechanisms of organ regeneration, wound healing, stress, longevity and a host of other mysteries. The artists marvel at the intrinsic beauty of those creatures and how the story of their DNA so closely relates to our own. Sometimes, rather often, really, the artist and the scientist are the same person.

The results of these collaborations and the selected works of other artists and or scientists whose works are inspired by the natural world are once again being exhibited at the Bio Lab’s Art Meets Science show.

This year’s show, which has an opening reception, July 7 from 5-7 p.m. is particularly compelling, featuring many local and Maine artists as well as selected artists from throughout the country and the world.

About 50 professional artists are presenting works in a wide variety of media. According to the lab’s special events coordinator Bonnie Gilfillan, the Art Meets Science Show has become a popular venue for artist and art lovers, so there is no dearth of submissions.

“I’ve have heard from both our scientists and our area artists that this is the show they look forward to every year,” she said. “During the run of the show, it’s great to see how the scientists, instead of going directly from lab to lab, linger in the hallways to ponder the art on the walls. Several have commented that having the art so close at hand helps them with their own creative thinking.”

The works she and the lab’s communications specialist Stefani Matteson and co-curator Annette Carvajal selected for the exhibit are thoughtfully scattered throughout the main building of the lab. They are interspersed by handsome posters of scientists with brief explanations of their current work. Every so often, the exhibit is interrupted by the windowed doors of the actual science labs, where one can peer in to see researchers bent intently over their microscopes or engaged in some teaching moment. It is a wonderful example of a gestalt moment with all the elements – the ideas, the art, the science, the work – all coming together to form a fascinating whole.

This year’s exhibit is divided into four “galleries” starting with “Contemporary Artists in Acadia” celebrating the park’s centennial. Here, several of MDI’s landscape artists – Ellen Church, Rob Pollien, Judy Taylor, Scott Baltz and others, carry on a tradition that started more than a century ago. There also is a tribute to the young naturalist Charles Eliot, who first came to MDI as a young man with a crew of his Harvard classmates to study the flora, fauna, weather and geology of MDI, calling themselves the “Champlain Society.”

In Gallery 2: “Observations of Nature,” the artists draw closer to their subjects – not unlike those researchers peering into their microscopes. Rebekah Raye invites us into a bird’s world where songbirds feast on insects. Kathleen Florance’s seemingly abstract acrylics turn out to be keen studies of the structure of a wasp nest. Photographer J.K. Putnam narrows in on a gull rookery where the bird’s droppings have created a golden bloom of sunburst lichen.

In Gallery 3, “Artists and Scientists: Learning from Each Other,” we see the results of collaborations, such as Linda Rowell-Kelley’s translucent watercolor of microscopic organisms. Here also are the artistic works of scientists who moonlight as artists – Dena Light’s mixed-media study of vibrations; Amanda Lilleston’s remarkable woodcut of a heart; Francois Joseph LaPointe’s digital print of a handshake and a kiss; Joni Seidenstein’s fabric creations representing both the neuro-pathways of the brain and galaxies.

Gallery 4 explores “Innovations in Science and Art.” Here, artists take advantage of the amazing technologies that allow us to see into living cells.

This amazing exhibit takes the viewer on a hundred-year journey that starts with the tiniest smudges of bacteria passed in a handshake then travels outward to the barely visible silhouette of a man-made space station orbiting past the moon and the limitless possibilities beyond.

After the July 7 opening, guided tours will be held twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. through Sept. 30. To preregister (required) visit www.mdibl.org.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.