Director of the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and CalArts alumnus, Stephen Nowlin (BFA Design 71) has curated a beautiful and multifaceted exhibition, simply titled ENERGY, which is currently on view at Art Center through Jan. 23, 2011.
Nowlin has long been a significant voice in the contemporary discourse between art and science. In his 18 years as director of the Willamson Gallery he has curated a number of exhibitions exploring this relationship, often partnering with colleagues at Caltech, and featuring artists who work at the intersection of art and science.
Says Nowlin, “I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the way scientists and artists have thought and written about each others’ endeavors through different periods of history. Nineteenth Century poets such as Whitman and Poe experienced Nature as thrilling and mystical, and they worried science was reducing it to something plain and factual—eliminating transcendence from our view. As it turns out, quite the opposite has occurred. The more science exposes layers of reality, the stranger things appear to be. Every new fact forges many new mysteries and questions. Alongside the practical benefits and challenges science delivers to humanity, there is always this sublime and exponential expansion of the unknown. The poets needn’t have been concerned.”
In the elegant brochure for ENERGY, designed by CalArts Program in Graphic Design faculty Gail Swanlund (Art MFA 92), Nowlin writes: “…we commonly describe the ways of science and the ways of art by using terms filled with tension and conflict, as if the two domains reside at polar ends of a spectrum. One wonders, though, which is more profoundly aesthetic: Nature sculpted with divine purpose; or Nature sculpted by random encounters with forces of energy that we, by virtue of our privileged chemistry, experience as beautiful. If the latter, the aesthetic lies not in the shape of things, but in us–we, the lucky finders of beauty where it wasn’t meant to be.”
The exhibition includes two large-scale video and sculpture installations by L.A. artist Rebeca Méndez; a series of works by New York photographer Richard Barnes; small-scale archival videos documenting post-war growth in energy consumption and Cold War fears driving the development of atomic weapons; and artifacts from scientific exploration at the beginning of the modern industrial era.
Finally, to directly connect ENERGY to Art Center’s students, Nowlin invited a class called “Design for Sustainability” to install its solutions to energy-based assignments on a wall in the exhibit. As it unfolds over the course of the semester, the wall continually changes, becoming “like a performance piece”–pedagogy on display. Assignments revolve around a designed product’s extended life-cycle analysis. Working within the context of the exhibition, says Nowlin, “reminds students that if they want to be enlightened designers for the 21st century, they need to understand issues relating humans to their environment. And to do that, they must factor science into their design equations.”
In June 2011 The Institute for Figuring, founded by Chair of CalArts’ Writing Program in the School of Critical Studies, Christine Wertheim, and her sister Margaret Wertheim, will bring their Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef to the Williamson Gallery. Currently on view at the Smithsonian Institution’s Sant Ocean Hall in Washington, D.C. through April 24, 2011, The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, weaves together strands of art, science, mathematics, and conservation.
Art Center College of Design
1700 Lida St., Pasadena
through Jan. 23, 2011