A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Collecting, Ordering and Naming

By Elisabeth Nickles

Things Found on the Beach in a Rainstorm 

Walking along the beach is an experience that triggers the basic gathering instinct in me. I am fascinated by the diversity of life in the small things, the micro worlds that complete the eco system, providing food and housing for the smaller animals. In reality, nothing exists in isolation, yet here in this image I have isolated what I have found, trying objectively, to understand each one and also to appreciate the form and design of each scavenged item.

There are several marine plants in the surrounding waters of Monomoy. Their textures vary from spongy, sticky, leathery, and mossy. I notice this first, and their colors. I like to watch them in shallow water to see how they move. The function of a water plant is revealed in its regular habitat and how it adapts and thrives with the impact of constant movement as well as salt. Many plants float along, and have air sacs to keep them elevated. Others, hitch a ride and put down suckers on rocks, shells, and living mollusks. All find their way, at some point, to the shore where they can also provide habitat for insects on the sand.

The creatures that live on and around the marine plants are also there on the beach; other animals of the sea or parts of their life cycle are also washed up. All of these things work together in the food chain, plants and animals living and dead; nothing is wasted and at some point provides a necessary element that completes the ecosystem.

The image above isolates the object from its environment and much information is found in the silhouette. This image convention is used in menus, nature guides and easy to read symbols.  I am interested in the repetition of form, the design of form as it relates to function, and the sheer beauty of the silhouetted image. I know scientists have to be objective in their research and data collection and I have tried this time, to omit very little. My classifications may be different as they are based in what I find beautiful and interesting. My next step is to look at these things under a microscope.

 I am still not certain of the names of these items. At one time none of these things had names and they existed without symbols or sounds to describe them, or perhaps within the animal kingdom they do have sounds to classify them, especially if it is a food the animal eats.  With humans came a naming system, although the way the Native Americans classified these things are completely different than the conventional system now used.

I am interested in creating my own classification, along with understanding what is already known about these specimens. How will this then be interpreted as a drawing: black and white or color? How does the eye and hand translate what it sees? For so long, all scientific information was accompanied  with detailed drawings. The artist and the scientist were not separate. With photography, we can now take a quick picture to identify, but there is still so much beauty in the translated image and the  connection, through action and meditation of the observed. The images of Haeckel, a scientist and artist, created classification systems and influenced design and architecture. The magnified botanical images of Blossfeldt influenced the Arts and Crafts movement. We can see with these examples that art and science have long been holding hands.


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