New course for Spring 2012: CO-EVOLUTION

CO-EVOLUTION: Art + Biology in the Museum
ARTS 429/529 // BIO 402/502 // UHON 402

Szu-Han Ho, Assistant Professor of Art & Ecology (UNM Dept of Art and Art History)
Joseph Cook, Director of the Museum of Southwestern Biology, Professor of Biology (UNM Dept of Biology)
with Visiting Artists: Brandon Ballengée, Suzanne Anker, and Brian Conley

As collaboration and communication between fields becomes increasingly prevalent within scientific research as well as artistic practice, there is a greater need for interdisciplinary exchange between biologists, artists, historians, and other researchers to share resources and methods for building collective knowledge. This form of collaboration can help researchers to see the intersections between cultural history and natural history, to pose new questions, and to foster a more expansive approach to answering these questions in a way that connects their diverse histories. This course aims to bridge the gap between traditionally segregated disciplines, in order to develop the creativity, generative thinking, and rigorous inquiry required of future leaders in research and practice.

“CO-EVOLUTION: Art + Biology in the Museum” consists of a 1-hour seminar each week and a series of three 2-day intensive workshops, to take place throughout the semester. Joseph Cook (UNM-Biology) and Szu-Han Ho (UNM-Art & Ecology) will co-teach the course, along with a diverse set of guest lecturers that include biologists, artists, musicians, designers, and programmers. This course is intended for UNM Honors students and advanced undergraduate or graduate students in Art Studio or Biology; instructor permission is required to enroll.

During the weekly seminar (Tues 12-12:50pm), we will hear from a variety of perspectives in both the arts and sciences on the relationship of form to place, centering on the theme of “Morphology and Geographic Variation.” We will address such questions such as: How has geography affected the ecology and evolution of species? How can we understand the relationship of animal appearance and behavior within an environmental gradient? Why do some bird species sing in local ‘dialects’ and what are the parallels between human and non-human communication? How have artists engaged with and intervened in natural systems through a place-baced understanding?

The workshops, which will take place during three weekends throughout the semester (Fri-Sat; 10am-4pm), will be led by invited artists who are renowned in their field and working at the intersection of science and contemporary art. Students will have the opportunity to work with the Visiting Artists through hands-on workshops to explore various themes in relation to the collections at the Museum of Southwestern Biology, one of the foremost natural history collections in the country. The workshops will address one of three possible themes:

1) Brandon Ballengée: Cataloguing Wonder — recapturing the sense-experience in empiricism; collecting through the senses
2) Suzanne Anker: Fluid Taxonomy — on the dynamic, ever shifting practice of classification and its implications in culture
3) Brian Conley: Morphology and Evolution — investigating change in nature and culture through place and time

Students will develop a hands-on study or project that may result in one of the following: a public presentation or exhibition highlighting aspects of the collection; a web-based tool for activating data in a visual or aural format; a printed book or catalogue for dissemination; a curricular module for a hybrid lab/studio. The aim of these collaborative workshops is to create accessibility and dialogue around the valuable resources of a natural history collection within the scientific and cultural debate on habitat, genomics, climate change, and biodiversity.

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