April 6, 2010

Nature and Academia Explored In Greenhouse Display on Quad

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Displaying the intersections of disciplines at Cornell, three greenhouses filled with specimens and images from various research projects across the University are on display on the Arts Quad for the rest of the week. These greenhouses comprise the “Stories as Nature” art installation by Yehre Suh, visiting critic in architecture.

Citing Bruno Latour’s Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, Suh critiqued the notion of nature as too romanticized: an ideology rather than an actual practice. Today, she said, “sustainability” is used more as a public relations or marketing tool, “a gimmicky thing.”

“[Green architecture] is so much more than green colors,” she said.

Typically, she explained, specimens such as plants are usually labeled textually and accompanied by material such as an image or a diagram; there are multiple layers of information to be processed. Instead, Suh wanted to take these representational methods apart and separate them by location.

Suh divided these methods into three greenhouses: one filled with photographic “image specimens”, one with “material specimens” — the actual physical specimens themselves — and one with “text specimens” that include scientific names, written descriptions, etc.

By creating such a public display, Suh hoped to “engage people in these discussions [about representation].”

After receiving a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts for this art installation, Suh spent two days sending out between 200 and 300 emails, trying to see if there was interest in submissions for her project. She received 70 to 80 responses and then narrowed them down to the 40 which were ultimately presented in the installation.

“It was my first time interacting with scientists,” Suh said, “And it was very interesting.”

The contents of the greenhouses range from plants to grains, insects and soil samples.

One of the more “intriguing” specimens in the project, Suh said, is a collection of the “world’s tiniest wasps.” The wasps are used to control populations of moths in certain areas, Suh said.

According to Judith Kellock, music and director of the Cornell Council for the Arts, CCA grants are voted on by an independent panel of four faculty member judges. Among other criteria, the decisions are based on the impact the proposed project will have on the campus.

Kellock said that the panel liked Suh’s proposal because they expected her installation to be “very visual, very large” and the panel also took into account the fact that she had done her Field art installation last April.

The Field project consisted of 2800 hay-filled red sacks arranged in a grid on the Arts Quad in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Earth Art exhibition at the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art.

Prof. Jeremy Foster, landscape architecture and one of the members of the CCA review panel, said of Stories of Nature, “The project is really interesting because it exposes or reinforces the relationship between the different colleges and disciplines at Cornell in an artistic way.”

Moreover, he added, “[Stories of Nature] looks like a simple thing, but when you think through what it references, it’s really a dense piece of work. It’s about provoking people to ask questions, which is what good contemporary art does. It’s not a billboard that explains everything in simple terms.”

Others who assisted with Suh’s project include John Best, Ryland Dandreta ’12, Taek Han ’12, Jae Lee ’12, Natalya Maliyeva ’12, Karl Tsui ’12, Richard Jaenson, facilities manager and Steven Yaros, AAP facilities management.

In addition to the CCA, Stories of Nature was sponsored by the Department of Architecture. The art installation will be displayed on the Arts Quad until this weekend.

Original Author: Elizabeth Krevsky