ArtScience and Awe at ArtCenter

Artists and scientists team up for two nights in Pasadena this weekend

Published : Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 5:45 AM

Tom Hall, Photo by Marcus Fischer

Awe: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.

So goes Noah Webster’s dictionary definition, although it is likely the “Father of American Scholarship and Education” might be open to still other ways of defining and experiencing the phenomenon.

“Free Radicals: On the Provocations of Awe,” will consider the experience through a lens crafted in a melding of the arts and sciences.

Fulcrum Arts, the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at ArtCenter, and Pitzer College Art Galleries will present the symposium at ArtCenter’s Hillside campus this Saturday, Nov. 8 and Sunday, Nov. 9.

The program is a product of Fulcrum’sA+S (Art+Science) initiative, and the LASER (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous) international program, which rounds up artists and scientists in the same informal setting to share ideas.

The Art+Science movement, sometimes abbreviated to one word, ArtSci, and others reversed as SciArt is an international one dating back some 60 years.

The movement, explained Stephen Nowlin, vice president, Williamson Gallery, has become very popular, almost mainstream in recent years.

ArtCenter can be considered as enlisted in that movement.

“Here at the ArtCenter Williamson Gallery, we’ve been exploring the subject of ScienceArt for a long time in the exhibitions that we do and catalogs we produce and essays that we write,” said Nowlin.

The point, he explained, is to pair these two stereotypically opposite ends of the spectrum — science and art – and try to understand the world through that dual or combined lens.

MIT Press, Nowlin explained, publishes the Leonardo journal with articles and essays about the intersections of art and science.

“Leonardo sponsors these LASER talks at about 30 venues worldwide,” he said. “We have one about every three months and we just bring together scientists and artists to give very short presentations on what they’re doing. So this symposium will also be a LASER talk event.”

The speaker-art-scientists are making objects, they’re making videos, they’re doing installations, all of which combine to form this alloy of experience called ArtScience.

“Robotics, space science, botany, augmented and virtual reality will all be addressed and positioned within a greater conversation that recognizes the allied importance of both the arts, and the sciences, to the dynamic tenor of our time,” said ArtCenter in a statement.

As to the topic at-hand this weekend, Nowlin noted how the stereotypical perception of awe is as a fulfilling, celebratory, emotionally positive experience.

“But it is also true that being awe-struck,” he said, “is to have a sense of awe at comprehending something that causes people to be curious and leads them to new information and to new knowledge that often challenges traditional thought and can cause conflict as people progress in their levels of knowledge about the world.”

To paraphrase: awe can be critical, can incite curiosity and lead to new knowledge that confuses things until people get past previous assumptions.

The free, two-day symposium will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m both days.

A keynote speech by Janna Levin will open the proceedings. The physicist and astronomer from Barnard College has done research around black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime.

But Levin is an artist, too. She is the author of the novel “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines,” and a newer book about the sound of space ringing from the collision of two black holes over a billion years ago, called “Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space.”

Her presentation will be followed by IR. Bach, an artist and philosopher specializing in electronic media, whose recent show at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I Want to Know, “worked with mirrors, optics, and other surveillance technology to pursue a work that both examined and mimicked a mysterious encounter the artist experienced while camping in Mexico,” according to ArtCenter.

Jana Winderen will deliver an artists talk and a quadraphonic sound dispersion though we don’t know if in that exact order. She is from Oslo, Norway, and her focus is on audio environments and ecosystems hard to access, deep under water or ice.

She will be followed by an artist talk from Kyle McDonald, who works with code, crafting interactive installations and hacker-like interventions of the harmless gadlfy variety, and tool kits for those who want to follow in cybersteps.

Other names include Rebeca Méndez, Chris Parks, Archie Prakash, Brittany Ransom, Nancy Baker Cahill, Beatriz Cortez, Bill Anthes, Rana Adhikari, Tom Hall, Ian Ingram, and Karen Lofgren are other luminaries presenting at the two-day thoughtfest.

“People who come should be prepared to see stuff that they’ve never seen before because if you haven’t jumped into this subject, you don’t know what to expect,” said Nowlin. “It’s quite different than people would imagine, but exciting.”

Free Radicals: on the Provocations of Awe, Nov. 9 and Nov. 10, ArtCenter School of Design, Hillside Campus 1700 Lida Street. Free with RSVP.

The Free Radical website can be found at and the Williamson Art Gallery’s art+science exhibitions past can be sampled here:

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