Thank you SciArt for this amazing opportunity for cross-collaboration! As an introduction, I’m a visual artist living in Seattle, WA. I received my BA in Anthropology and Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania and my MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
I paint using the imagery of cartography (words, color, dots and lines) to explore my inscape, or internal landscape of time, place, and spirituality. For me, map making is an act of meditation - when I’m making the repeated dots and lines of my paintings, I stop thinking about the mundane events and obligations in my life, and start thinking about more expansive ideas about time, the environment, layers of geological history, the vastness of the universe, and the fleetingness of each moment. I then put these thoughts into my maps using stencils, stamps and freehand writing.
My work is included in two books about maps and art: The Map as Art (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), by Kitty Harmon and From Here to There: A Curious Collection From the Hand Drawn Map Association (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010).
It makes sense that the SciArt Initiative matched me with a geographer for The Bridge Residency! I’m grateful to be connected with Innisfree McKinnon and I look forward to seeing where our conversations about maps lead us. I also love the fact that the SciArt residency emphasizes process (and the documentation of this process on the resident blog) and not on a specific product. Although a particular work of art (or multiple works of art) might come out of this residency, the mere act of having an ongoing conversation and reflectively writing about that conversation will lead to unknown territory.
My website: www.kareykessler.com
This residency produces an interesting tension in me because I have an ambiguous relationship with science. I have a strong interest in science and background in it, my undergraduate degree is in environmental science, which in practice means that I was trained by ecologists. And yet, I went searching for other perspectives as I launched into my graduate school career, ending up in geography with a strong emphasis on urban and regional planning and landscape architecture.
My interest in science, like many scientists’, stems from a deep feeling of wonder at the beauty of the natural world. As a young person, I hoped that my position as a scientist would allow me to speak with authority, that I didn’t feel, about the need for conservation. Through further study, I began to realize, that in many ways, the scientific or technical solutions are easy. Today, although scientists are always learning more about climate change and its impacts, the need for action to reduce our emissions is very clear. The problem isn’t knowing what we need to do, it is doing it. Understanding why we aren’t taking the needed actions moves us from a need to understand environmental or natural systems to a need to understand human systems including culture, politics, economics, and psychology.
I view environmental or conservation issues through a broad lens. I worked for about a decade as a science educator, pushing for people to understand, and love, science and through science, the world. Yet it is clear that science isn’t enough. So, I have searched in social sciences and in design fields for different skills, approaches, and ways of thinking that will help us build a better world. And that is where I found geography.
In the U.S., understanding of geography, as a field of study, is very low. The public mostly thinks of memorization of capitals, but geography was environmental studies before environmental studies was a topic of interest. It is a truly interdisciplinary field which has given me training in science, but also social theory, and cartographic design. It is only in the last few years, as I have met and interacted with people from other academic fields, that I realize how lucky I was to stumble on a field that allows for so much interdisciplinary thinking and training. I have colleagues (and friends) who are geomorphologists, and feminist glaciologists, landscape architects, and urban planners. Unfortunately, I think that kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration can be rare, yet so needed.
So, what I’m saying is that I often don’t think of myself as a “real scientist” and yet, my career has led me back to science. I teach largely in an environmental science program and my research is more and more about how scientists and other stakeholders can work together both to understand the world and to envision a better world. And that is one place that I see art (and design) making a huge contribution. Scientists work to understand the world as it is, but through creativity, we see how it could be.
Looking forward to exploring these tensions with Karey.