New exhibit at Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery explores themes of failure and experimentation
Melissa Gwyn was an art professor creating molecular structures using fruits.
Scott Lokey was a chemistry professor.
When the two met, a labor of love commenced between the arts and sciences that would ultimately give way to the most recent exhibit at Porter College’s Sesnon Gallery.
“Full Disclosure,” which opened at the Sesnon Oct. 7, features a collaboration between UC Santa Cruz art professors and science professors. It explores the common themes of failure and experimentation in both disciplines.
“This exhibit shows interesting parallels between the process of an artist and a scientist,” said Lokey, an Assistant Professor of chemistry at UCSC and one of the organizers and curators of the show.
The idea first came about in 2002, when Gwyn — an Assistant Professor of art at UCSC and the co-curator of the exhibit — met Lokey at a new faculty dinner.
“We started to think, ‘wouldn’t it be interesting to combine science and the arts?’ and the idea started to percolate,” Lokey said of the initial concept.
Lokey and Gwyn’s primary motivation was to bring together people from different disciplines and observe what they would create. They contacted artists, chemists, mathematicians, biologists and more.
The artists wrote in-depth proposals for their project ideas. Lokey then reviewed and assessed the proposals. He suggested particular scientists that would be relevant and helpful to each artist’s proposal.
One of the artists participating in the exhibit, art professor Elliot Anderson, proposed a project that looked at landscapes and industrial sights. Lokey put Anderson in contact with Rus Flegal, a professor of environmental toxicology.
“We saw that [Anderson and Flegal] seemed to speak different dialects of the same language,” Lokey said.
After their first meeting, Anderson and Flegal were both eager to see what would eventually come out of the collaboration.
As various other faculty collaborations fell into place, both Lokey and Gwyn began to see a theme emerge: the ideas of failure and experimentation that are ever-present in both disciplines.
“Failure in science — and art—is an unfortunate component necessary for progress, [and] it is unavoidable when experimenting,” Lokey said.
Both Gwyn and Lokey noted that artists and scientists alike must continue in spite of failure, which often leads to an end result that is greater than anyone could have originally anticipated.
“Failure is a starting point, a place of entry, not a final summation,” Gwyn said.
Shelby Graham, the director of the Sesnon Gallery, said that she hopes the exhibit will allow people to see the not-so-subtle connections between the two disciplines and create a conversation surrounding them.
“Artists use the word intention, but sometimes when you don’t get to the first intention, you must be open to what it’s leading to,” Graham said of the pieces in the exhibit. “We want to raise more questions than answers, to spark curiosity and critical thought in the viewer. And we hope the dialogue continues outside of the gallery.”