Where science and art meet

August 14, 2015


Fine Art chair works on art built on a foundation of scientific work

The lazy days of summer is only an expression for many of MacEwan University’s faculty, staff and students. They spend the hottest months of the year volunteering, travelling, researching, creating art and culture, and more. Before the Fall 2015 term kicks off, we wanted to share a little of what some of them are working on.

Walk into Leslie Sharpe’s studio during July or August and you’ll find the chair and associate professor of Fine Art surrounded by rough drawings and work in early stages of development. If it chooses to behave in the sweltering heat, her 3-D printer will likely be chugging away in the background and every so often something that resembles a twisted bird beak will appear, as if by magic.

Much of Leslie’s work links back to the themes of nature, migration, human development and climate change, and her summer projects are no exception. That deformed beak is part of a new piece of sound sculpture that builds on her contribution to the 2014 sound art exhibit Sonar at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Both pieces are influenced by avian keratin disorder, which has been extensively researched and currently has no known cause but is leaving thousands of birds in the Pacific Northwest with elongated and deformed beaks.

“These wonderful little chickadees develop beaks that make it virtually impossible to get food and feed their young,” says Leslie. “There are interesting and touching stories of these birds either dying or adapting—including a pair of birds who switched roles to be able to feed their young.”

With these stories as inspiration, Leslie built a 3-D rendering of a normal chickadee beak, distorted it, printed the results in 3-D and added a sound mix from her own chickadee recordings. Her current plan for the new piece is to make it larger and more complex than her previous installation, but the project is still in raw form, which means that everything could change.

“I’m spending the summer months looking at research and data, and considering how I want to translate it to understand what it might eventually look like,” says Leslie, who explains that the break between Winter and Fall semesters offers a window of opportunity. “This is the time of year when academics know we’ll have the time to do really focused and concentrated work, so we plan around that.”

Another of Leslie’s summer projects also links science with art. Expanding on a larger body of her work related to animal migration patterns in the Arctic, she is connecting with researchers in Edmonton who are gathering data around wild animals living in parks—and collecting used cross-country ski poles and boots at the same time. The result will likely be a multimedia exhibit, but we’ll all need to stay tuned to see how the science of migration and the sport of cross-country skiing will manifest in a future public art exhibit.

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