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Students, scientists and artists collaborate for exhibit

September 25, 2018
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Etienne Dolezal, from left, Jakob Petranek and Alex Christy, all seventh-graders from Jefferson Middle School, review an art project that is a collaboration between scientists and artists exploring dark matter and mental health. The exhibit is put on by the Arts + Literature Laboratory and the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center. It is on display at a Winnebago Street gallery until Sept. 29.

Art and science joined forces as part of a recent collaboration among area high school students, UW-Madison physicists and Madison-based writers and visual and performing artists.

The LAB3 project features artwork inspired by scientific research led by physicists from UW-Madison, including scientists from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and the Department of Physics. It was a collaboration between the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center and the Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL).

Over the summer, six teams — each composed of one scientist, one visual or performing artist, one writer and three to four high schoolers — explored current areas of scientific research ranging from neutrinos to dark matter to cosmic rays.

In response to these scientific topics, the teams produced original visual, literary and performance-based art, including two-dimensional art, installation, video art, sculpture and poetry, which will be on display through Saturday at ALL, 2021 Winnebago St. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment.

The student participants came from Madison, Middleton, Waunakee, Janesville, Wauwatosa and Lake Mills high schools or are home-schooled.

Guy Thorvaldsen, who took part as a poet who teaches English at Madison Area Technical College, said he first made sure the students understood the science involved before they started writing haikus.

To facilitate visits from younger students, LAB3 has offered guided visits for middle-schoolers along with complimentary transportation to and from the gallery.

“I haven’t seen art like this before. It’s definitely new to me,” said Sammy Cayton, a seventh-grader from Jefferson Middle School who toured the exhibit last Wednesday.

Another Jefferson seventh-grader, Mario Marquez, appreciated the scientific aspect of the exhibit.

“It’s really neat knowing that these tiny particles smaller than atoms are traveling through solid objects,” he said.

During the tour, the middle-schoolers stood in line to go into the plywood chamber that was soundproofed with foam and designed inside to “replicate a chaotic urban environment,” said Annie Ma, a senior at Middleton High School, who helped create it. Ma said she came up with the idea to re-create noise pollution on her way to China on a family trip this summer.

As a visual artist, she was in charge of lining the walls with found objects such as grates, pipes and a duct. The musicians in the group then used software to arrange a musical track with urban and sonar sounds. A beekeeper’s hood covered in artificial foliage and lined to help muffle the urban sounds hung from the ceiling. It was equipped with headphones and when students put it on, they could hear the sounds of bird calls.

“We wanted to create something functional that the viewers could interact with,” Ma said.

The impetus for the LAB3 project stemmed in part from knowing that students mostly self-identify as a scientific or creative person by the time they reach high school, according to Silvia Bravo, Communications & Outreach Specialist at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center and co-director of the LAB3 project. Their preference also affects the time they spend on activities not related to their career goals, increasing the division between science and the arts.

Bravo said she proposed the project to Jolynne Roorda, founder of ALL, and together they designed it as bit of an experiment. She said the project also was intended to show students that they can be both a scientist and an artist/writer and “that having both visions and approaches to understand the world is better than having only one, but also that they help you create something new.”

“LAB3 invites students to think about science from another perspective, to grow and develop their creativity,” said Roorda, co-director of the project. “Scientists as well as artists and writers try to understand the world around them. They just do it using different techniques and platforms. There’s no need to choose between your scientific and your creative self.”

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