News | April 20, 2015

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Art and science meet at Crossroads Residency

Tampa artist Joe Griffith works on his art at the Vester center.
Tampa artist Joe Griffith works on his art at the Vester center.

Arts and sciences often are paired together in academic institutions, but FGCU took the relationship a step further this year with the introduction of the Crossroads of Art and Science Artist Residency.

The first resident artist, Joe Griffith of Tampa, produced a multifaceted ArtLab Gallery exhibit in January that was inspired by ongoing studies at FGCU’s Vester Marine and Environmental Science Research Field Station. He created sculptures, drawings and paintings during a two-week stay at the Bonita Springs facility.

“This year is a trial year to figure out how it should work in the future,” said Gallery Director John Loscuito. “The idea is to create a unique opportunity for an artist to take advantage of the specifics of a location or equipment or research. This site has immediate access to unique ecosystems, and researchers there are gleaning information from that environment.”

A plaster tooth made by Joe Griffith and displayed on the Library Lawn drew visitors to his exhibit in ArtLab.
A plaster tooth made by Joe Griffith and displayed on the Library Lawn drew visitors to his exhibit in ArtLab.

The breadth of scientific topics and visual inspiration at the marine station inspired Griffith.

“There’s an incredible amount of research going on here that you can create a narrative from, from the microscopic to the landscape,” he said.

After consulting with FGCU faculty and staff at Vester, Griffith narrowed his focus to the cyclical movement of mercury through humans and the environment. His exhibition, “Mercury Switch,” explored the element’s presence in seafood and in humans, as well as in commercial products such as fluorescent light bulbs and household thermostats. Some dental fillings contain mercury that vaporizes into the atmosphere during cremation, so he fabricated 3-foot-tall molars that were displayed on the campus lawn and attracted visitors to the exhibit.

A study for Joe Griffith's "Mercury Switch" exhibit.
A study for Joe Griffith’s “Mercury Switch” exhibit.

Along the way, Griffith learned that scientists are creative, too. Discovering new knowledge, developing conclusions, conveying scientific information to others – it all requires outside-the-box thinking.

“Trying to communicate to students, I’m like a comedian that’s trying out jokes,” quipped Marine Science Professor and Vester Director Darren Rumbold. “Every year I change the course to try to tell the story better. With this residency program, it’s communicating using art as the hook to get people interested in science.”

Whatever direction it takes in the future, Crossroads signals a new point of interdisciplinary collaboration for FGCU.

“Art is as vital a form of communication as any other form, like movies or music. It’s not just for decoration,” Loscuito said. “Art can provide a quick entry into a deeper discussion.’”