Art and Science collaborate in Mudd Gallery

Kijai Corbett

Leaving the black and white landscape of winter in Wisconsin, one is struck by the sudden profusion of tropical blues, greens, golds, and even fuchsia upon entering the new art exhibit in the Mudd Gallery.
Entitled, “Art and Science from the Philippines,” the exhibit runs until March 8 and is the artistic culmination of a research trip taken by biology professor Jodi Sedlock and four of her students – alumnae Laura Corcoran, ’04 and Shi-hsia Hwa, ’05, senior Ben Pauli, and junior Marin Damerow.
Last summer, the team spent 10 weeks studying the bat population on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Home to 75 species of bats, the Philippines are an ideal place to study bat diversity and distribution.
During the trip, the team captured and released 456 bats while creating posters and pamphlets to educate Filipinos about bat conservation. The artwork displayed in the resulting exhibit is “an attempt to underscore the important role that art can play in community conservation science to non-scientists,” wrote Professor Sedlock in her introduction.
The exhibit includes drawings, prints and photos created by both Sedlock and her students. The students were chosen for their combined scientific and artistic talent – a fact that is evident in work which is artistically nuanced while obviously informed by close observation.
On display are intimate scenes of daily life and of the general area. Visitors can view panoramas of the area’s environmental degradation due to agriculture, and photos of a camp surrounded by dense jungle, strung with laundry lines and scattered with chickens.
Close-ups of seven bat species captured and photographed by the team familiarize the animals to the viewer, making the creatures approachable – even adorable – with their translucent, paper-thin wings, furry bodies, and tiny faces.
There are also collages done in Photoshop by Corcoran, one of which served as the postcard for the gallery, and paper-cuts by Hwa. One example, called, “Darwin at the high net,” gives a sense of the conditions faced by the team, while being exquisite on its own.
As an important component of the trip was education, the exhibit also includes some of the educational materials created by the team. A poster written in local dialect – an important feature in educating locals, Sedlock noted – and a cartoon entitled, “What To Do With A Bat,” explaining how bats can help people and how people can help bats.
Student essays describing their experiences and photos of each member of the team complete the exhibit. Next to the photos hang detailed depictions of bats, frogs, lizards and insects in pencil, watercolor and charcoal. As in the exhibit overall, these handmade pieces communicate previously unknown aspects of life in a way that makes them accessible, interesting and beautiful.