This week Cara gave me a virtual tour of the University of Arizona Insect Collection. The walk throughs of each others spaces have been incredibly useful to not only understand how we each operate separately at two institutions but also to navigate the possibilities of what could come of our collaboration through support of our research spaces. I have visited a few insect collections, but admittedly, not as many as I would like. I used to spend a great deal of time at The Ohio State University Entomology lab (http://entomology.osu.edu) as a curious undergraduate observer and borrower of cockroaches for various installations. I have visited the Insectarium in New Orleans (http://audubonnatureinstitute.org/insectarium) which is a public and hands on space where you can get up front with several different types of insects. I began thinking about how differently each of these spaces is structured, organized, and offers different levels of interactions to visitors.
One thing that struck me initially about the University of Arizona Insect collection were the large blue stacks of movable collection cabinets organized like a library. I was struck by how active this seemingly quiet space was. Students were capturing microscopic images of insects in a small lab while others were working in their offices. There seemed to be a lot of energy there. Cara showed me a few collections of pinned insect. She showed me everything from what she referred to as the “oh wow collection” which included several large insects, insect architects like the potter wasp, and an incredibly small parasitic wasp that was nearly indistinguishable through the various lenses we were communicating through. Cara even tried to line up the laptop camera with a microscopic viewer for me to try and see this tiny specimen.
Next week, my students will be working through an exercise of designing a microscope attachment for their cell phones to be used for a future course exercise of capturing details of different natural surfaces. I couldn't help but laugh at all of the lenses we were were attempting to permeate to share these experiences with one another virtually- the lap top camera, the microscopes, etc. but I also thought about how much more our now ubiquitous cyborg tools (tablets, smart phones, laptops) could be used for if we sought out using them as observation tools beyond snapchat/texts/facebook. I was able to virtually visit a very substantial collection that I otherwise would not have been able to see, I am able to use these devices as a microscope, a tool for collection, and close(r) observations.
Cara and I have discussed how to slow down viewing experiences. The speed of consumption through digital platforms has arguably shortened the amount of time we spend viewing things that exist off screen. I feel like we have reached a point where are have both arrived at possibly designing something physical for our collaborative project- something that utilizes the organizational, architectural, and/or pheromonal structures of an (undetermined) insect species. We talked about illusionary installations, platforms that shift perspective as you move through space- I am looking forward to talking about this idea further next week.
For now I am left with thinking about a a few different artists -Peggy McNamara, who has been an artist in residence at the Field Museum in Chicago and has illustrated a number of their collections (http://www.peggymacnamara.com and http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/A/bo5757684.html).
Ken Rinaldo’s buzz: http://www.kenrinaldo.com/portfolio/buzz-video-installation/
And Amy Young’s Museum for Insects, a small scale exhibition space designed for a cricket with 3D printed and hand constructed components that had a live view of the cricket during the installation period:http://hypernatural.com/portfolio/museum-for-insects/. Amy is an artist who I admire for her work that shifts the viewing perspective / experiences / exchanges between humans and insects.
Until next week…
I (virtually) walked Brittany through the University of Arizona Insect Collection [http://www.uainsectcollection.com] this week. This is a core facility for the University and is integral for insect-based research and insect diagnostics for the state of Arizona. It is the most comprehensive collection of Sonoran Desert arthropods in the world with approximately 2M specimens housed within airtight cabinets.
I forgot to enlarge my screen during the call, but being in a tiny box in the corner trying to reach a much larger audience about this (mostly) miniature world seems completely appropriate! When I sped the final video up 20x (so that our half hour chat is manageable) our voices are sound like the quick chirps of insects hatching a complicated plan.
“Now it seems the possibilities are truly endless - we can make anything and insects can do everything!” Brittany said.
We talked again about ways of slowing down the consumption of our finished piece. I was reminded of the topology of this sculpture where a 90 degree shift offers a radically different viewpoint.
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Brittany Ransom is an award-winning artist, technologist, and assistant professor of Sculpture and New Genres at California State University, Long Beach.
Cara Gibson is a graphic designer, director of Science Communications, and Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.