Student Report: Joanna Page – Student Seminar

This student seminar was part of 2022 Humanities Fall Conference: Ciencia y Caridad.

Reported by Pauline Rogers, Class of 2025.

Professor Page’s seminar focused on the theme of Art-Science Projects. Before arriving at the seminar, participants were expected to read the introduction of her book Decolonizing Science in Latin American Art. 

She begins by asking us a question that we split into groups and discuss. “What are the differences between art and science?” Differences that we are asked to focus on include their objectives, methods of communication, what is valued, standard of what makes it good, and spaces in which they operate. 

Next, the discussion moves to ideas discussed in her book: what “slow science” is and what it means to “decolonize science”. Dr. Page explains that much like slow food in the UK, restaurant goers are prepared to spend two to three hours at the restaurant, as opposed to fast food. Similarly, slow science is the idea of taking time with the science, rather than heading straight toward an answer as fast as possible, leading to ignoring many other relevant factors. To decolonize science is to move away from the idea that there is only one science, that which is done in a laboratory and that the science and that various ethnic, regional, or spiritual sciences are not science. 

Dr. Page shares a quote by George Gessert who claims that “bio art tend(s) to challenge anthropocentrism.” She then shared an art-science project by Eduardo Kac called Natural History of the Enigma which was a flower that Kac inserted his own genes into. Dr. Page used this project as an example to show that not all bio art challenges anthropocentrism.

The next art-science project Dr. Page shared was a closeup video of ants by Kuai Shen with a jarring, alien sounding soundscape, titled Oh!m1gas, created from placing very sensitive microphones in a colony of leaf cutter ants, making audible the sounds of ants communicating and rubbing their legs against their bodies. 

The third project was a robot that repaired rivers on a small scale by Gilberto Esparza, entitled Nomadic Plants, that uses bacteria to take up contaminated water and turn toxic material into electricity to power the robot. Dr. Page explained that this project shows the ability of nature to heal itself.

The final project Dr. Page shared was called Yerma by Ana Laura Cantera. Cantera uses residue from Yerma mate, a tea common in Colombia, to create a material that she then uses to make sandals and other useful items. 

Dr. Page closes by asking the seminar room how these artworks change our idea of the role of the artist. A short discussion brings up the answers that these artworks take the artist out of the focus, as well as put more focus on the beauty of the natural world. 

Finally, each of the groups are given fifteen minutes to come up with their own art-science project, which are then shared with the whole room. Ideas ranged from recycling plastics to plant races.