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Davis, California

Monday, October 25, 2021

Art meets science

Inside the Consilience of Art and Science exhibit at the Pence Gallery is a large sculpture in a corner by a window facing the street. From a distance it appears to be a large piece of white manufactured plastic, about six feet tall and with irregularly shaped holes. On closer inspection, the sculpture is actually constructed from plastic wrap twisted and wired together. Noises of birds and insects softly permeate the small room.

The sculpture is called “Radiolarian Ooze” by Anneliese Volis, and it is one of many pieces at the new exhibit at Pence Gallery on D Street in downtown Davis.

Director and curator Natalie Nelson worked with the Art/Science Fusion Program at UC Davis starting in 2009 to bring the exhibit to the gallery. Nelson hoped to highlight the similarities between two fields that are more typically contrasted with each other.

“Both art and science are highly creative fields,” said Nelson. “They use observance of nature and the senses.”

Though the exhibit of 2009 involved several student artists, the 2011 exhibit has more professional artists and scientists.

Joanna Kidd is an artist from Davis who has been working in art since 1999, with sculptures, paintings, etchings and prints delving into several different topics. The Consilience of Art and Science exhibit will show her sculpture “Specimens” in which small figures of humans, each curled into the fetal position, are pinned to a backboard like insects in a lab.

The sculpture was inspired by a phrase from the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot “discussing the inability to communicate … and the sensation of being pinned or imprisoned by a phrase,” Kidd explained.

“I began to associate the way that words can change what they are describing with the visual imagery of collections of insects fixed with a pin,” said Kidd.

Kidd decided to participate in the exhibit because the theme “makes the viewer consider the work in the gallery in a different light,” she said.

Graduate student and researcher Rebecca Beer found her piece “Making Eggs” in the course of her research, rather than actively pursuing an artistic career.

“Making Eggs” is a photograph taken with a confocal microscope, a medley of the blues and greens of fluorescent dyes she used for her study of a young zebrafish ovary. The cool colors of the ovals and circles in the micrograph are the result of looking at an animal at the cellular level.

“I am interested in understanding the basics of how stem cells work,” Beer said. “I spend a lot of time taking images like these on the microscope, and I think that the smallest parts of living things can be the most intricate and beautiful.”

“My husband is an artist, and we often discuss how similar our jobs can be on a day-to-day basis,” Beer said. “Art and science are both problem-solving ventures. They just aim to solve different types of problems.”

For the Pence Gallery, with construction taking place just down the road, the art can transport a visitor into places they normally cannot see. Whether it is the nucleus of a cell through the networks of color on fabric, the past and present of a brick bridge and the creek it spans through past photography superimposed on the present, or the outside of the universe itself after the Big Bang through pen scribbles that nonetheless take on some familiar shapes of the world around us, art can make the trip easier.

“Art can see things in a different way; a lot of science can only be understood through the medium of art,” Nelson said.

The Pence Gallery will host a free jurors’ talk on Feb. 11 in which the two jurors of the exhibit will discuss their favorite pieces.

AMY STEWART can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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