December 01, 2008

Students utilize left and right sides of their brains in Case Western Reserve and Cleveland Institute of Art Class

Students build shadow boxes for Sounds of Doan Brook.

Biology and sculpture students create art with environmental themes for public display

Uniting the scientist's left brain thinking with the artist's right brain creativity has resulted in a number of environmentally based art installations and projects in Biology 312, a course offered jointly by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA).

The public will have the opportunity to view these works from this cross disciplinary course in the College of Arts and Sciences' department of biology and the sculpture department at CIA during the week of December 1-5.

This semester, Michael Benard, a new assistant professor of biology, and Charles Tucker, head of the sculpture department at CIA, together taught the course to 15 students. The class was comprised primarily of fourth-year biology majors and sculpture majors.

In addition, the students worked with visiting artist Fritz Haeg, an architect internationally known for his conception of habitats from "Edible Estates," a series of lawns transformed into artistic vegetable gardens, and "Animal Estates," conceptualizations of habitats for animals in the urban environment -- and a project that debuted at the Whitney Museum's Biennial.

Working in teams, the student collaborators produced five major projects:

  • The Deadly Killers is a working title for a children's book about insidious species. The cartoon character of Wally the Walleye battles six invasive species in the Great Lakes, species such as the zebra and quagga mussels and the round Gobi. Created by Jessica Adanich from CIA and Addy Adedipe and Saria McKeithen-Mead from Case Western Reserve, this illustrated workbook will be printed as a limited edition by CIA and distributed through a local museum.
  • Sounds of Doan Brook is comprised of two interactive animal habitat shadow boxes designed by Subha Amatya and Zhen Ou, both fourth-year biology majors. Visitors to this exhibit put on headphones and hear sounds from animals found in Doan Brook, which wends its way from Shaker Heights through University Circle to Lake Erie. The visitors then open the wooden shadow boxes and match the sounds they hear to the pictures of animals found in the nearby habitat. Members of the Case Western Reserve community can test their knowledge of local animals when the project is displayed in the Thwing Center Atrium on Wednesday, December 10, from 2-4 p.m.
  • Reforesting the Forest City is a video project and online website designed by CIA's Bryce Campbell and the university's Rachel Gentz and Nona Lu. The project was created to inspire Clevelanders to rethink their urban environment -- and consider planting native trees to transform vacant lots and abandoned properties into green spaces. The video project will be on display in the atrium during Thwing study hours on Monday, December 8, from 8 p.m. to midnight.
  • "Doan Brook?" is a poster project that highlights the impact humanity has on Doan Brook. The posters, by CIA's Linda Ding and Case Western Reserve's Hanh Weigel and Marta Worwag, contrast pristine areas of this natural habitat with others that have been devastated by the urban environment. The project can be viewed Tuesday, December 2, through Thursday, December 4, in the Atrium of Thwing Center.
  • Vernal Pool Experience serves as a reminder that habitats are homes for animals. The multimedia video project depicts area animals living in vernal pools and wetlands, habitats that appear in winter and spring and disappear during the summer and fall. Nia Bhadra, Chiazor Askusoba, Emily Eckstrand and Patrick North created this installation, which includes two wooden houses. The houses are symbolic of animal habitats and serve as display screens for the video installation. View this project on Friday, December 5, from 1-5 p.m. in the Hovorka Atrium of the Agnar Pytte Science Center on Adelbert Road.

Students work on The Deadly Killers book
Students work on "The Deadly Killers."

While this is not the first time Case Western Reserve and CIA have offered Biology 312, Benard and Tucker bring a new perspective.

"We discussed having a more scientific focus," said Benard.

He and Tucker each have a specific interest in the environment and have integrated their expertise into the class.

Benard studies amphibians and how some serve as bellwethers for the decline of natural environments.

Before turning his talents to sculpture, Tucker received his bachelor's degree in biology from Livingston University. He went on to earn a bachelor's of fine arts degree from the University of South Alabama and a master's of fine arts from the University of Alabama.

The new assistant professor

This is Benard's first semester on campus. He came to the university after his postdoctoral fellowship through the Michigan Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan. The fellows, who met and exchanged ideas and papers, are from interdisciplinary backgrounds and various fields, including anthropology, biology, comparative literatures, English and physics.

When Joseph Koonce, chair of the biology department, approached Benard to discuss fall courses, Benard said this class felt like a natural progression from his interdisciplinary work as a postdoctoral fellow.

Evolution of the biology class

Prior Biology 312 courses took place at the University Farms in Hunting Valley and focused more on sculptural works related to that specific environment. The first class called "Environmental Sculpture" was taught by Kim Bissett, a CIA instructor, in 2004. Later Eric Neff from CIA taught the class until 2006. The course was not offered in 2007 but was revived this year with the arrival of Benard and his collaboration with Tucker.

According to farm director Ana Locci, the students used the indoor and outdoor facilities at the Valley Ridge Farm and were taught by faculty from the biology and geological sciences and officials from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Some of the projects from those classes included a woven sculpture in wood, furniture from dying trees and different kinds of bird nests.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, December 1, 2008 10:51 AM | News Topics: Arts & Entertainment, Collaborations/Partnerships, College of Arts and Sciences, Environment, Faculty, Provost Initiatives, Science, Students, features

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