Sixty years ago, scientist and novelist C.P. Snow introduced the idea of the “Two Cultures” — science and art — and how practitioners of each discipline eschewed the other. During the last six decades, barriers between the two have broken down, although siloed thinking is more prevalent than not, and both the sciences and humanities are suffering in their own way in public discourse.
UF biology professor Jamie Gillooly is well aware of the divide. He began his academic life majoring in English literature at the University of Michigan, where he had one intro bio course that bored him. It wasn’t until his senior year when he discovered the transcendentalist writers such as David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller, whose relationships with nature figured heavily into their writing.
Gillooly took advantage of the University of Michigan’s New England Literature Program, joining his classmates in an eight-week exploration of the wilderness, beginning with a canoe trip down the Concord and Merrimack rivers, retracing Thoreau’s own journey. Gillooly then began his own journey as a scientist when he returned to school to get a PhD in zoology. Since then, he has developed a remarkable model for linking the metabolism of organisms to the ecology of populations and ecosystems — breakthrough thinking in biology.
For the past 10 years at UF, Gillooly has brought his own passion for science and the humanities to a class he developed, “Studiolab: Experiments in Art + Science.” Every other year, Gillooly co-teaches the class with a professor from the School of Art + Art History (SA + AH) in the UF College of the Arts. During the Spring 2019 semester, he taught the class with art professor Sean Miller, who also has a love for bringing science into his art. The class — cosponsored by SA + AH and the Department of Biology — comprised half art students and half science students. Their projects represent independent collaborations between art and science student teams.
Miller had previously previously taught the special topics course in 2014: Repurposing the Wunderkammer, which was a project that included a special topics course that met at at Florida Museum of Natural History and the SA + AH. This involved Miller’s own art and co-curating a 2015 exhibition of internationally acclaimed artists and scientists working with the collections at the UF Harn Museum of Art and the FLMNH, and a visiting speaker series. It was funded by Creative campus Catalyst Fund and supported by FLMNH and the Harn.
This year, Miller is showing an exhibit called Drifting Cabinets: A Curious Portable Collection of Gulf Biodiversity, which includes a collection of trunk-like cabinets. Each cabinet is lined with retrofitted wood collected after hurricanes in the Gulf and filled with specimens of regional biodiversity: horseshoe crabs, snakes, algae, butterflies, ferns, and more.
In 2016, Miller joined forces with Brandon Ballengée, an artist and biologist from Louisiana State University, to create The Crude Life Portable Biodiversity Museum for the Gulf of Mexico , which consists of trunk designed, constructed, and curated to relate to the ecology, culture, and audiences specific to Louisiana and Florida. By combining art and science they provide portable museum experiences that travel the country educating people on Gulf biodiversity and the environmental impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Their work was funded by the Nafki Keck Futures Initiative.
The photos below are from Gillooly and Miller’s 2019 “Studiolab” class. The students explored biodiversity, the environment, and the effects of the climate crisis in an exhibit that opened at the Gary R. Libbey Gallery on the University of Florida campus on April 26 and will be open throughout the summer for those who wish to visit this amazing exhibit. Below is but a sampling of the students’ artwork.
“Death Masks have been used since ancient Egypt to recreate the likeness of powerful leaders. Later in history, most notably in medieval France and England, Death Masks took on ceremonial significance. We are piloting a new era of Death Masks using traditional and unconventional materials. Referencing the cultural consumer product Chia Pet, we seek to develop a mushroom planter that doubles as a homage to passed loved ones. Mushrooms are a symbol of decay, but also rebirth. We experimented with a variety of spawning methods (rye, oats, and manure) to grow the mushrooms, and sculpting materials (clay, and 3D modeled cardboard) to create our masks. Consumers will thus have a range of eco-friendly options to choose from in selecting a mask for themselves of their loves ones. “
“From beach goers to major museums, the wondrous diversity of the Conch shell has enchanted collectors across the globe, but what if scientists could change the Conch shell’s genetic code to make it even more captivating? Through the investigation of genetic engineering, the displayed translucent porcelain shells provide a glimpse into that inquiry: genetically manipulating the bioluminescent DNA of one species and adding it to another. With the organic layering of a shell, each mollusk species creates a secretion of calcium carbonate forming its backbone as a protective home. In the case of the Clusterwink snail, it has evolved to emit bioluminescent flashes for additional protection. When it senses a predator the creature inside the shell releases a chemical from the luciferin protein causing it to glow. This display renders the results of genetically engineered shell species spliced with light-producing enzymes. We are using science fiction to explore human kind’s capacity to alter nature’s beauty.”
“Dinner with the Stars is an interactive installation in which guests are invited to sit at a five-pointed table, acting as both a place gathering and eating. The table features a fish tank in the middle, housing sea stars. The guests are brought an assortment of food (seaweed, shrimp, fish, squid) that is based on the diet composition of sea stars, ranked from most common (seaweed) to least common (squid). Each of the 5 “points” acts as a table top, with visual elements of sea stars in the form of an anatomical diagram. While guests are seated next to each other in a circle, guided toward the center, they will be sharing a meal with the sea stars.”
“Outside of their toxic or psychedelic properties, society knows little about fungi. With our at-home cultivation table, TerrariTable, we aim to change this perception of one of Earth’s most misunderstood kingdoms. From the yeasts that ferment your beer to the portabellas served on your plate, these mysterious organisms have been essential to human, plant, and animal life. Our personal mushroom grower, which also serves as an elegant coffee table, brings mushroom propagation and biology into the home. The sterilized, aspen wood shavings, which have been inoculated with Golden Oyster mushroom spores, will bear edible fruiting bodies in approximately 2-4 weeks. The mycelium, which can be seen engraved on the tabletop, will spread to colonize the substrate in order to pass nutrients and information from mushroom to mushroom. On top of the table, we offer assorted handmade fungi paraphernalia for viewers to learn about the biology, uses, and wild habitat of mushrooms in a hands-on and engaging way. Items include: biological illustrations, mycelium engravings, a poem, stickers, preserved mushrooms, and a zine on edible Southeastern mushrooms. Through engagement, we hope viewers will leave the installation with a newfound fascination with mushrooms and an interest in growing them.”
“The Acherontia genus is the fastest and one of the only predacious Lepidoptera species in the world. This piece aims to illustrate the parallels between the Greek myths after which Acherontia species were named, and the corresponding adaptations that have related these species to the myths. Here we portray the narrative from birth to death by using a single thread to represent the Thread of Life. This thread flows between the Greek myths symbolized through special Arduino motors, paralleled by the three moths themselves. The linear mounting of this piece contributes to the natural flow of the narrative, beginning with the dispensing of the thread, traveling to its death through the shears, and ending at the fictional River Styx.”
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University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA