Ken and I spent our first week getting to know each other better. We purposefully decided to take a more personal approach because we both agree that the most productive collaborations in our respective fields come from finding good collaborators that you trust and enjoy working with. So we decided to spend some time chatting about our lives, and digging into the things that drive and inspire each other’s work. We found we actually have a lot in common -- including that we both like the same book, and the same exact scene from that same book! (FYI it’s The Windup Bird Chronicles, and the scene with the well). It was fun to hear the kind of science that Ken likes to geek out about and inspires him to be super creative. It’s such a different approach from my response to cool science, so it was fun to hear about.
It really struck me both how similar and how different our process is for figuring out what to work on. I was happy to see that we both independently decided that the best way to start the process of our collaboration was basically to become friends. It reiterates to me that even across really different disciplines, we are all humans looking to make connections and enjoy our work. One intense thing I learned about being an artist, is the amount of self-introspection required. Ken described how he comes up with ideas for new art, and how he thinks about pushing the field forward. Because most of his ideas tend to come from personal experience, to move his art forward he really needs to put himself and his history out there for the world to judge. This was really impressive for me to learn about because I often think about how much of my emotional self I put into my science, and how hard it can be to get rejections or criticism. But at least I have a long line of previous research to back up my new ideas!
During our second chat, we spent a lot of time throwing out ideas about possible collaborations. We both agreed that we wanted to do something beyond me explaining my science and Ken making cool visual representations of it. We want to aim for something that is truly collaborative.
We discussed a lot of really interesting ideas, that include thinking about grasslands in different times and space (think space: aboveground vs belowground; think time: the patterns of seeds that disperse throughout the season). We also talked about neat ways to do artistic prairie restorations, and also exploring the concept of random through art.
Before the first conversation with Lauren, I was excited but also unsure how it would go. Trying to begin a project with someone you have only just been introduced was a bit daunting. Happily, after a few minutes of talking with Lauren I realized I got lucky and this was not going to be a problem! Lauren is very positive, relaxed and pretty funny which made the conversation flow and expand. It was amazing to hear about her work with seed dispersal, work in the field, the focused thought process that goes into investigating this. (I particularly liked hearing about a past project where Lauren creating seed prototypes out of other materials, releasing them into the wind of the environment and tracking them at night with black light!!- sounds like a cool performance piece already!)
As our first conversation unfolded, both Lauren and I seemed to equally feel the importance of getting to know each other as a beginning step in collaborating. While the act of figuring out a project that is both science and art is the main purpose, the act of collaboration is also the point. With that in mind we allowed ourselves the space to just become friends and talk about general things of interest. It turns out we both liked a lot of similar things- both big fans of the old TV Show The X-Files and the writer Haruki Murakami with Wind-Up Bird Chronicles being a particular favorite. It was slightly alarming that we both keyed into certain scenes in the book (the well scene in the Murakami for anyone who read the book) and individual scenes in various X-Files episodes. I thought these moments of shared interest allowed us a comfort level/ opening to share more freely. At some point, our conversation came to the origins of our particular investigations- not only how they began but what in our past may have directed us toward that interest. I think artist do this sort of self- reflection fairly regularly as we look for guidance as we explore new territories and I was curious where Lauren’s interests stemmed, what was her ‘bedrock ‘. We talked about memories, types of books you like, things you collect, etc- things that give a window into one’s content. She mentioned reading books with themes of an individual alone in the wild learning to survive in nature (and making friends with animals). She also relayed that she keeps many objects (pictures, notes, etc) as possible from her life, an archive of sorts. Those memories/ practices seem relevant to her direction as a scientist. I also shared a few memories that I thought contributed to the content of my artwork, such as fossil hunting with my family (an interest in deep time, artifacts, ancient animals), sonar testing in Seneca Lake (technology image distortion, and eventually static), visiting pre-columbian ruins (archeology, archaic technology and structures) and even my interest in Science Fiction movies and books.
This wide ranging conversation I felt gave us a better sense of each other, a rounded understanding of each other’s practice, and, importantly, possible commonalities to explore in a collaboration. So maybe in this collaboration, this is Step 1- seeing where you can begin from.