Haskins Laboratories works with artists

Art and science may not always go hand-in-hand, but, as a recent exhibition of science-inspired art demonstrates, the two can inspire and inform each other.

Haskins Laboratories — a Yale-affiliated research institution located on 300 George St. — is hosting an exhibition of abstract sculpture and painting, called “Mind Sets,” in conjunction with the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. The exhibition connected a group of artists with Haskins scientists to develop original works based on scientific innovations, theses or papers produced in the lab. Much of the art focuses on themes of speech or complex patterning — like a ceramic mouth mounted on a rock, or a print of zigzagging, overlapping shapes — which stems from Haskins Laboratories’ focus on the biology of communication, such as speech, reading and language patterns. The exhibition, located on the ninth floor of the laboratory, was curated by Cat Balco and Debbie Hesse, who are both local artists . The show features the work of 14 artists, while a group of students attending the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford worked together to catalogue the art in the exhibition.

“The theme of the exhibition is scientists and artists collaborating together,” said Christine Saari, interim communications manager at the Greater New Haven Arts Council.

Haskins Laboratories began hosting art shows upon its relocation five years ago. Philip Rubin, chief executive officer of Haskins Laboratories and adjunct professor in the Department of Surgery at Yale, said the laboratory has hosted two shows per year since its move, and although the specific shows vary, they always aim to engage the employees and to encourage the dialogue between art and science. Rubin said he was very pleased with “Mind Sets,” but he acknowledged that the exhibition is somewhat difficult to understand because of the abstract nature of the art. When the labels for the artwork finally go up in the next day or two, the conceptual pieces should be more accessible for the general public, Rubin noted.

“You need context to understand [the artwork],” Rubin stated.

Balco, one of the curators for the exhibition, said the exhibit is unique. The artists responded to the research done by the scientists, and the work of the artists remains in the scientists’ workspace. In turn, by seeing the art in their workspace, the scientists continue the dialogue, Balco said. Balco added that the project was very open because the artists were given a list of scientists from Rubin and were allowed to go forward from the list in deciding which piece of research inspired them. Different artists approached the project in different ways, either creating art based purely on the research of the scientists or arranging to meet with the scientists one-on-one to collaborate, Balco added.

“The focus is on the translation from the scientist to the artist,” Balco said. “We had the ability to pick a diverse group of artists and give them the maximum amount of choice.”

One of the artists whose work is on display at the lab is Carol Padberg, an associate professor of painting at the Hartford Art School. Padberg, who collaborated with Rubin in creating her artworks, has three textile-based pieces in the show, including colorful square panels of fabric in the tradition of Buddhist prayer flags.

“[The exhibit] provided a rare opportunity to address encoded abstraction via the scientific processes,” Padberg said in an e-mail. “I made a set of prayer flags, which include speech ‘waveforms’ … from the development of pattern playback technology, which is a form of digital speech.”

One of these prayer flags is called “NGO URLS,” which is located outside the conference room of the laboratory. In this piece, Padberg used barcodes of the website URLs of different nongovernmental relief organizations to make up her satin flags. The organizations Padberg incorporated are CARE, Doctors without Borders, OXFAM, Heifer International and the World Wildlife Fund, to which donations can be made by way of any smartphone with an application that can read square barcodes off of the flags.

“In this work, I am creating a balance between service and contemplation,” Padberg said.

There will be a public reception for “Mind Sets” on Nov. 4, 2010, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the lab. The reception will include a panel discussion with some of the artists and scientists involved with the exhibit. The show will run until Jan. 28, 2011, and can be viewed Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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