Nearly two years ago, we independently applied to the SciArt Initiative’s Bridge Residency program. A bridge connects two places, spaces, ideas, people, and The Bridge is intended to connect artists and scientists who together might “generate new ideas and provide new perspectives which can lead to innovation in existing fields or the creation of new ones.” Through weekly zoom meetings and our series of nine blog posts, we used The Bridge and the opportunity for bridging that it created to introduce each other to our different perspectives and ideas about ecology, photography, and woodworking while sharing fragments of our day-to-day lives. What we were doing at the same time, albeit less explicitly, was developing a shared language that we could use together to build a friendship and to develop and instantiate creative and collaborative projects.
In hindsight, we can say that we started out our residency on different sides of a bridge but ended it at the beginning of another. Now, we are crossing this new bridge together from familiar ground into new, creative territory. In this post, we sum up where we’ve gotten to in the year since the formal end of our residency and reflect on how it has changed our creative, scientific, and technical practices as we continue to engage in collaborative work.
Where we’ve been
The theme that emerged from our time spent in/on The Bridge focuses on a non-anthropocentric aesthetic: decentering humans from their centrality in defining beauty and the picturesque, a consideration of how other organisms “see” and understand visible characteristics of the world around them, and how this consideration might expand our understanding and conceptions of our own aesthetics. We have been honing this theme and developing projects around different aspects of it through photography, workshops, and creative and technical writing.
By the end of our residency, we had applied to Art Explora for a Duo Residency at Montmartre, submitted proposals for workshops at the 2021 Borrowed Time event in the UK and the 2021 CICA New Media Art Conference in South Korea, and submitted an abstract to present at the 2021 biennial conference of the International institute of Applied Aesthetics (IIAA). Of these first four submissions, we batted .500: the CICA workshop and the IIAA paper (both presented virtually because of ongoing effects of COVID-19). And we had similar success with an abstract we submitted—and the paper we subsequently presented—at the 2021 annual meeting (also virtual) of the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA). But we struck out with Art Explora, Borrowed Time, and other residences (Tusen Takk, Loghaven) and opportunities for exhibitions (COAL, PhotoPlace Gallery’s In Celebration of Trees) for which we subsequently applied. Whereas grant competitions in the sciences have a success rate of 10–30%, most of the residencies and exhibition opportunities we applied for received > 900 applications for a single slot—a success rate of about 0.1%.
But the most fun and most productive work was done in the field working together. As travel restrictions eased in the fall, we took a break from our continuing weekly zoom meetings and got together in person to start developing these ideas in practice. In late October, we spent 10 wonderful days in the Great Basin region of the southwest US, photographing bristlecone pines (fig .1)—the oldest individual organisms on Earth—and the extreme, high-elevation landscapes in which these trees live, at Great Basin National Park (in eastern Nevada) and the Inyo National Forest (in southeastern California). At dozens of locations, we photographed the identical trees or scenes in digital color and infra-red, analogue ultraviolet (film), and with glass plates using an emulsion comparable to what would have been used in the 19th century. This field excursion was followed up with a week of developing and scanning the glass plates and 4×5᳓ film negatives, organizing hundreds of digital images, and additional technical production work at the University of Toledo, where Eric is an Assistant Professor of Art and Aaron was the first Axon Labs Creative Artist-in-Residence.
Where we’re going
After more than a year of working together, we’ve developed a theme and a set of ideas that serves as the foundation for our creative and technical work. We are sieving through the large collection of analogue and digital images that we have accumulated and creating a portfolio of work that we can develop into exhibitions and use to clearly illustrate our written work. While we are waiting for editorial decisions on a pair of submitted papers, we are writing additional ones, submitting abstracts for conferences, and artwork for exhibitions. We look forward to continuing to expand on our existing ideas, evolve new ones, and create new work.