Catalyst Winter 2019

Art for Science Rising

By Pamela Worth

In 2018, UCS took every opportunity before the midterm elections to reach prospective voters with the message that science and evidence are crucial to our democracy. As part of that effort, we launched Science Rising, a national mobilization of thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts who hosted more than 100 events emphasizing the importance of science to our health and safety. Then, in order to draw even broader attention, we thought outside the lab.

The resulting project, Art for Science Rising, began with a UCS call to artists around the country to create visible, bold work in outdoor public spaces that would communicate the vital role science plays in our lives. We received dozens of inspiring proposals that were evaluated by a team of artists, art curators, and science communicators. Six artists and collectives made the cut, and we awarded them grants to develop and install their works.

With their distinct and indelible messages, these works of public art have reached hundreds of thousands of people and garnered media attention from print and television outlets. UCS is proud to have facilitated this unique exchange among scientists, artists, and the public. Here are the projects (which are also on the UCS website). And stay tuned for more Art for Science Rising projects in 2020.

We Are the Asteroid II

Justin Brice Guariglia, Chicago, IL

Photo: Sebastian Buffa

Artist and environmental activist Justin Brice Guariglia’s unusual inspiration was something many of us see every day: a large LED sign on the side of the highway, flashing traffic-related alerts.

“I thought, this is the perfect metaphor,” he says. “It’s a great way to get people to slow down and think more about the unprecedented changes taking place in the natural world around us.” Working with Rice University professor and author Timothy Morton, Guariglia refurbished a solar-powered message board and programmed it with text Morton drafted. He then installed the sign at Chicago’s Navy Pier, where hundreds of thousands of passersby watched it flash a series of aphorisms:

WARNING: HIGH CO2
TRIASSIC WEATHER AHEAD
GLOBAL WARMING AT WORK
GOODBYE ARCTIC ICE
DON'T ECO SHOP ECO VOTE
WE ARE THE ASTEROID

With/Out Water

Yu Wen Wu, Boston, MA

Photo: Audrey Eyring/UCS

On a site in Boston where hundreds of Chinese families were displaced from their homes in the 1960s, Yu-Wen Wu staged an installation featuring the voices, words, and images of the city’s current Chinatown residents speaking about immigration, climate change, and community. Underscoring the theme of immigration, these were projected inside tents, along with messages of hope from young attendees. Visitors were encouraged to join in discussions and workshops about the neighborhood’s environmental concerns.

“I wanted to address current issues to the members of this community—many of whom are immigrants,” Wu says. “I think that understanding this issue, and asking for mitigating measures as Chinatown undergoes planning and housing crises, is really important.”

Like There Is No Tomorrow

Lina Dib, Houston, TX

Photo: David DeHoyos Photography

In the Mid Main neighborhood of Houston, images of the Flower Garden Banks coral reef—located off the Texas coast—wavered, projected in the windows of an art gallery. As people passed by, their presence bleached out the images, simulating the real danger to reefs around the world as ocean waters warm. Inside, others attended workshops on ocean conservation. Artist Lina Dib teamed with technical designer Taylor Knapps to create this work.

“It's a playful piece,” says Dib, “but it’s also sad, as it displays the effects we have on these ecosystems. The kinds of changes we’ll have to make as a civilization aren’t going to be easy. I like that this work amplifies these states of conflicting or unresolved emotions.”

TREAD

Andy Rosen, Portland, ME

Photo: Joe Carter

Nestled in the waters of Maine’s Casco Bay—warming faster than most of the global ocean—is a stand of discarded pilings, decaying wooden posts that once supported a commercial dock. Amid those pilings, two deer made from aluminum, steel, and foam stood submerged and then exposed as the tides rose and fell, discomfiting some spectators and visitors with their warning about rising sea levels.

“I’ve been thinking about the metaphors that are often used for climate change, and this is a way to figure that out on my own terms,” says artist Andy Rosen. “There’s something about the presence of the water that’s peaceful and threatening at the same time.”

Vote for Science

Class Action, New Haven, CT

Photo: Class Action

Drivers on I-95 south of New Haven, Connecticut, encountered a series of three bold red-white-and-blue billboards breaking up a landscape of advertisements. Spaced out over a mile, these billboards created by the graphic design collective Class Action, read:

THANK GOD AND VOTE FOR SCIENCE
PRAY FOR ALL AND VOTE FOR SCIENCE
HOPE FOR THE BEST AND VOTE FOR SCIENCE

The project expanded to Indiana and Florida, where billboards also read:

KEEP THE FAITH AND VOTE FOR SCIENCE

In a joint statement, the collective says it hoped the billboards’ simplicity would jar drivers into considering their meaning.

“It means considering the implication of candidates who deny science—what will they base their decisionmaking power on, if not rigorous research and facts?”

We Are All Crew

Resident Arts, Columbia, MO

Photo: Resident Arts

Take a walk on the MKT rail trail that winds through Columbia and you’ll pass a massive mural artfully displaying the city’s climate-related challenges, complemented by depictions of what residents can do to address them. Included are the words of philosopher Marshall McLuhan:

THERE ARE NO PASSENGERS ON SPACESHIP EARTH, WE ARE ALL CREW.

“I hope it engages people to start thinking: how do I take responsibility for what I’m doing to my environment?” says artist and project leader Madeleine LeMieux. From its conception, with input from the city’s office of sustainability, to its execution, with young artists helping to paint, the mural has been a collaborative project. “We’ll all be stewards of the imagery, and the message,” LeMieux says.