Part 3A field trip to Kate’s studio:
In addition to visiting Collin’s field sites and discussing the changing nature of fire in the Southwest, we also visited Kate Aitchison’s studio in downtown Flagstaff. Many people have observed this before, so it’s not a terribly novel thing to point out, but it is interesting to revisit the idea of science as an art and art as a science. I’m sure every scientist thinks of herself as part artist and every artist thinks he is part scientist, and it’s interesting to hear Collin and Kate talk about how they do what they do and to see the corollaries between the two processes.
There is an art to the experiment design that Collin has adopted and an artistry to knowing what he and his field assistant are looking for as they collect data. The fire severity maps Collin makes to represent where fires burn hotter have an aesthetic appeal, as well. Vibrant colors bring to life the differentiation across the landscape and how areas have (or are predicted to) burn.
On the flip side, Kate’s process of creating prints resembles the scientific method in many ways. She starts with a number of variables—different colors and types of ink and different materials to incorporate in different amounts and ratios. Then she creates prints with varying combinations of these media to see how things turn out. After seeing what’s produced, Kate adjusts the materials, ratios, and process to see how it changes the outcome of the printing. Her collections of prints are a bit like collections of field data. They show a record of careful observation, of knowing what to look for and methodically making adjustments to alter the results.
Another common thread running through Kate’s art and Collin’s science is the way that they both see the traces of the past on the present. In Kate’s work, images that appear faintly as a carryover from previous prints are called ghosts. Here she describes the phenomenon:
When I create monoprints, I use a plexiglass plate to hold my ink and materials. I then place a sheet of paper on top of that plate and run all the materials through the press at one time. This process transfers the ink from the plate onto the paper thus creating a print. Because of the nature of this process, there is still ink left on the plexiglass plate after the transfer has happened. It is possible to use this leftover ink on the plate to create what is called a “ghost.” A ghost is a shadowlike image of what was made before. More ink can be added to these ghosts to create prints that may work in a series together but do not have entirely the same imagery. Instead they incorporate shadows of previous images into what is laid down on top of that, making a unique print all its own. You never really know what you are going to get.
In Kate’s printing process the past is manifest in the present and the future. This is similar to the way that past landscape dynamics leave their mark. For example previous fires, livestock grazing, or logging can all influence how an area burns in the future. The landscape “ghosts” are visible when you look at the patterns created by more recent fires. The future must be forecast in a similar way; the past patterns of landscape dynamics influence future outcomes. We need to make sure the actions we take today facilitate the future adaptations of the forest and avoid turning them into actual ghosts of the forests they are.
Thank you for joining us as we explore some of the intersections of art and science and for taking the time to read these posts. Please join us at 7pm on December 6th at Firecreek Coffee Company for the opening of The Burnished Landscape: a show featuring Kate Aitchison’s art as inspired by Collin Haffey’s scientific work, click here to download the event flyer. In addition to Kate’s amazing prints, the exhibit will also include information on Collin’s fire resilience study and how these two have worked to bring science and art together to think and communicate in different ways. The show will be up for the entire month of December and the prints are available for sale.