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Art inspiring ecological science, inspiring art

Ecologists and artists explore the intersection of their craft in two back-to-back Ignite-style sessions on Tuesday, August 8, at the Ecological Society of America's 2017 Annual Meeting in Portland, Ore.

Ecological Society of America

Ecologists and artists will explore the intersection of their craft in two back-to-back Ignite-style sessions on Tuesday, August 8, at the Ecological Society of America's 2017 Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon.

"When a scientist sees their work through an artist's eyes, they learn something," said ecologist Kim Landsbergen, an associate professor at Antioch College and organizer of "IGN 5 - Art and Science Collaboration: Disciplinary Diversity as a Means of Exploring Ecological Systems and Value Structures." "In this session, we focus on collaborative projects that fuse contemporary art and ecological science to make new work that's not possible within each discipline alone."

In the fast-paced Ignite-style sessions, speakers explore new ideas and introduce new research tools within a strict format: five minutes for 20 slides, which advance automatically every 15 seconds. An informal discussion follows a set of ten presentations, linked by topic.

Explore artwork created by the session speakers in the Art:Sci Gallery

Landsbergen's session, co-organized with Emily Bosanquet from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, places a unique focus on the contemporary art process, with collaborations that strive to go beyond the representational.

Aaron Ellison, organizer of "IGN 7 - Ecological Art-Science Collaborations" and a senior research fellow in Ecology at the Harvard Forest, expressed similar goals.

"We hope to use this session to turn the one-way street that art serves only to communicate science, into a two-way interaction where art and science inform, improve, and enhance one another. Scientists can learn as much from art, and artists, as artists can learn from science, and scientists," said Ellison.

Ecologists should keep in mind the difference between commissioning art for communication purposes versus embarking on a new collaborative project, which requires both parties listening, working, contributing, and compromising together, Landsbergen said. She was struck by a comment from artist Ardis Defreese, a professor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art: art is not in service to science. A collaboration is work done among equals, Defreese told her.

During Landsbergen's session, Defreese will discuss her installation "Curiosity," inspired by climate change, copepods, and research she observed as an artist-in-residence at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Newport, Oregon, in 2016.

Ellison will present his collaboration with artist and designer David Buckley Borden, "Hemlock Hospice". The field-based installation was inspired by one of the most iconic trees in the United States, the Eastern Hemlock, and its slow death under the depredations of the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae).

The process of making art is remarkably similar to the process of scientific inquiry, said Ellison's session co-organizer, Carri LeRoy, an insight she gained by teaching in collaboration with artists. Both disciplines ground work in extensive research and experimental repetition, asking questions and working to place results into a broader context.

Ellison connected with LeRoy on Twitter, when he broadcast a request for examples of how art changes the way scientists do science. LeRoy sent him notes from a collaborative art-science class she had taught at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where she is a member of the faculty specializing in freshwater ecology. The exchange launched an ongoing correspondence and the pair eventually met in Oregon last summer, while Ellison was visiting on a month-long stint as a writer-in-residence at the H.J. Andrews Long Term Ecological Research site outside of Eugene.

LeRoy has co-taught a class called "River Reciprocity" with watercolor/book artist Lucia Harrison, and a class on "Scientific and Artistic Inquiry" with intaglio printmaker Lisa Sweet. Both courses asked students to make art that would help them to collect their scientific data, and, conversely to use the science to give the art meaning. She will describe the outcome in her presentation, "Art that gathers data, science that makes meaning."

"Like scientists, contemporary artists work in their own professional bubble, making art for one another," said Landsbergen. Some art is extremely abstract, communicating subtle ideas that, like the revelations of scientific publications, are not readily understandable to outsiders.

And cross-disciplinary projects are not without risk, Landsbergen said. Within the scientific community, artistic collaborations may be appreciated, but do not garner the same respect as a high-profile research publication. Likewise, in contemporary art, meditations on scientific concepts are not as respected as works in dialog with contemporary art itself. But Landsbergen and her fellow session organizers believe the benefits are worth the effort. In working together, artists and scientists have the opportunity to create bodies of work that speak to both groups.

Landsbergen has been collaborating with artists and designers on teaching and grant-funded projects for over seven years. Prior to joining the faculty at Antioch, she was an "embedded scientist" at an art college for four years, introducing art students to ecological science, biomimicry, and sustainable design. Through a courtesy visiting scholar appointment at Ohio State University, she is a member of STEAM Factory, a flexible workspace where people from different disciplines can meet, work, and talk.

"New grants and powerful Greater Impacts projects have grown out of the shared space at the STEAM Factory, so the University is very supportive," said Landsbergen.

IGN 5 - Art and Science Collaboration: Disciplinary Diversity as a Means of Exploring Ecological Systems and Value Structures

  • Tuesday, August 8, 2017: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
  • C123, Oregon Convention Center
  • Organizer: Kim J. Landsbergen, Antioch College
  • Co-organizers: Emily Bosanquet, Pacific Northwest College of Art; and Elizabeth Demaray, Rutgers University
  • Moderator: Kim J. Landsbergen, Antioch College
  • Session summary, speaker list, and links to abstracts

IGN 5-1 NOAA fisheries and Pacific Northwest College of Art partnership: Where art and science evolve and turn into change
Emily Bosanquet, Pacific Northwest College of Art

IGN 5-2 Curiosity: An installation inspired by NOAA, climate change, and copepods
Ardis DeFreece, Pacific Northwest College of Art

IGN 5-3 Benefits of art: Sci practice as a an ecology graduate student
Robert C. Ornelas, Rutgers University

IGN 5-4 In the field with weeds: Artisanal strategies for art and ecology
Ellie Irons,

IGN 5-5 Forest discovery: An arts, humanities, and environmental science experience of place
Lissy Goralnik, Michigan State University; Mark Schulze, HJ Andrews Experimental Forest; Kari E. B. O'Connell, Oregon State University

IGN 5-6 Art, community and ecology
Linda Wysong, Pacific Northwest College of Art

IGN 7 - Ecological Art-Science Collaborations

  • Tuesday, August 8, 2017: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
  • C123, Oregon Convention Center
  • Organizer: Aaron M. Ellison, Harvard University
  • Co-organizer: Carri J. LeRoy, The Evergreen State College
  • Moderator: Matthew Lau, Harvard University
  • Session summary, speaker list, and links to abstracts

IGN 7-1 Transformation, abstraction, and reassembly of information: An art-science exchange informs perceptions of nature
Paul CaraDonna, Chicago Botanic Garden

IGN 7-2 Art that gathers data, science that makes meaning
Carri J. LeRoy, The Evergreen State College

IGN 7-3 Scientists with pencils: Drawing as a tool for observation
Michael Kaspari, University of Oklahoma; Debby Kaspari, University of Oklahoma

IGN 7-4 Art and science collaborations: Teaching students to visualize
Gerri Ondrizek, Reed College; Leila Pyle, Reed

IGN 7-5 Making bed sheets out of biodiversity
Clint Penick, North Carolina State University; Robert R. Dunn, North Carolina State University; Adrian A. Smith, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

IGN 7-6 An art-music performance mash-up
Nicholas J. Gotelli, University of Vermont

IGN 7-7 Cave paintings and the origin of natural history
John Pastor, University of Minnesota Duluth

IGN 7-8 The Waterviz: A real time confluence of science, art and music
Lindsey E. Rustad, USDA Forest Service; Mary E. Martin, University of New Hampshire; Xavier Cortada, Florida International University; Marty Quinn, Plymouth State University; Michael Casey, Dartmouth University; Sarah R. Garlick, Hubbard Brook Research Foundation; Jussi Rasinmäk, Simisol; Mark B. Green, Plymouth State University

IGN 7-9 Hemlock Hospice: Art and science for declining hemlocks and the researchers who study them
Aaron M. Ellison, Harvard University; David Buckley Borden, Harvard University

IGN 7-10 Drawn to science: Exploring historical and contemporary synergies between drawing, creativity, and science
Bethann G. Merkle, University of Wyoming


2017 Annual Meeting in Portland Oregon
6-11 August 2017

Environmental scientists from 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories, and countries around the world will converge on Portland, Oregon this August for the 102nd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Five thousand attendees are expected to gather for nearly four thousand scientific presentations on breaking research and new ecological concepts at the Oregon Convention Center on August 6th through 11th, 2017.

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend for free. To apply, please contact ESA Public Information Manager Liza Lester directly at Walk-in registration will be available during the meeting.


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world's largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society's Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at

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