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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Interview with Dr.Grizelle Gonzalez ~El Toro Wilderness

By Ryan Mudgett

Grizelle Gonzalez
Photo Credit: US Forest Service- Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez

Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez is the Acting Project Leader for the International Institute of Tropical Diversity and participated at the El Toro Wilderness residency. Dr. Gonzalez is interested in the research of soils, decay, nutrient cycling, and soil organisms. She recieved her Ph.D. in Soil ecology and biology from the University of Colorado-Boulder. 

Q: Why were you interested in participating at the El Toro Wilderness residency?

G.G.I thought the idea was interesting because the project is designed for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. I was very open to the idea of having  scientists being matched with local artists so that’s how I got interested in the program.

Q:  Why is the intersection of Art and Science so important to you and your work?

G.G.When we started working with this project and when the artists arrived I didn't really acknowledge how important it could be.  After we started the residency I realized it was important get a fresh look at the things that I do on a daily basis but through a different lens. When you get into a routine of going to a site and doing things like every week or every month continuously it becomes difficult to see things differently because you know what it is from routine. So it is important for us to study with these artists and learn from their perspectives out in the field. 

Q: What are some of your reactions to the El Toro Wilderness? Any particular memories or first thoughts?

G.G.The first impression of going out into the wilderness with the artists and how there are many things that we take for granted in our daily routine became very important to me after this experience. The artists were immediately interested in the most common things and found them interesting and beautiful; this was refreshing for me.  So that was like the immediate reaction for me because I came to the realization and agreement with the artists that - really, you’re absolutely right, it is beautiful.

Q: What was a particular highlight of the month?

G.G.I think that the discussions that we had with the artists, and also the opportunity to go out together in the field with them.  We had this initial discussion, where the museum of contemporary art got involved at the very beginning of the residency. We all discussed our expectations together and what was a chat, developed into a two hour conversation. It was fascinating how we went into this discussion about tools and the use of tools for the artists and scientists. The scientists helped some of the artists really see their body as a tool - as the main tool to carry on the work ahead of them. And I think as scientists-our brain, bodies and  the work that we do with them are also tools but sometimes get too ingrained with technology and the specifics. So it really helped learning from the artist how to use our tools differently. Some of the artists used their body for yoga or meditation where there body becomes the main tool.  When scientists want to measure the height of the tree or the canopy cover we usually look to tools to take the measurements.  So it became fascinating topic to examine how different types of people use their tools.

Q: As a scientist do you feel like you influenced the artists?

G.G.Yes I think so. Towards the end of the residency when we had our little activity, the artists presented some of their photography that represented their experiences from the month. They presented some of their preliminary work and I think that the artists were very much influenced by the scientists. I think the knowledge that they were able to present, represented some of the things the scientists provided. I think the technicians and scientists provided a lot of the background for the development of their work and they also may have guided some of the ideas and things that helped them develop their projects.  Time became one of the main themes for local artists Dhara Rivera. Artist Aline Veillat, said that the scientists had provided an experience that made her feel deeply connected to the forest.

Q:Did you experience any absurd situations at the El Toro Wilderness Residency?

G.G.Maybe when we collected the soil samples, and to notice someone meditating next to me seemed to be a bit out of the ordinary.

Q: What were some of the beneficial outcomes of the experience?

G.G.From my perspective, seeing the landscape through a new lens and also allowing ourselves to experience it differently has become great for me and my work. Also seeing that the artists have a way to reach a broader audience became important to me. The final presentation showed how collectively we were able to attract some other parts of the population that may not come to an activity if it were just purely scientific. I think the collaboration can help us reach and educate a broader public.

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