Technology, Exploration, and Clay: The Artistic Process of an Artist-at-Sea Residency

Fernanda Oyarzun, Universidad Catolica de la Santisima Concepcion, Facultad de Ciencias, Concepcion, Chile
Art & Science residencies are on the rise throughout the world and disciplines. The idea of the positive impact of having artists observing, inquiring and cross-pollinating research environments grows along the call to a holistic view of knowledge which could help us confront our current global challenges. Here, I present my experience at the Artist-at-Sea Program of the Schmidt Ocean Institute where I participated in the expedition “New Approaches To Autonomous Exploration At The Costa Rican Shelf Break”. The experience gave me the opportunity to share time with a group of world leading engineers and scientists working to advance the development of autonomous robots used for exploration both in the deeper ecosystems of the Earth and in outer space. This residency allowed me to witness how scientific ideas were forming in between lunchtime conversations, during science meetings, while troubleshooting when a machine failed or in the sleepless time in front of a computer. This privileged inside perspective inspired me to explore the humanness of technological innovation while reflecting and celebrating the cacophony of interdisciplinary scientific collaboration in its early stages. In this technological environment, I used ceramic as the media, and old-technology which is a humble, ubiquitous and a noble material so intertwined with human culture through the ages, that connects with people on a deeply fundamental level. I worked with the scientists and crew to obtain sediment at 1741m below the seasurface to incorporate it into the clay body that I used in my sculpture. This intentional materiality, along with working with the clay sculpture process in a moving ship, anchored my creative work to this particular knowledge, place and art + science experience. In addition to serving as a science communication tool, this residency has informed other art & science initiatives that I am currently leading such as “Bienal Concepción, Arte y Ciencia” and “ASKXXI: Arts + Science Knowledge Building and Sharing in the XXI”. Most importantly, it has supported the idea that both art and science are creative process that can benefit from each other, as they push us to look at the same questions from different angles, ultimately expanding our world view.