The opening celebration of the Science Commons at the University of Lethbridge not only highlighted the phenomenal new space for science exploration, it also highlighted the involvement and importance of the arts in research and scientific discovery.

The University of Lethbridge Art Gallery helped kick-off the opening ceremony with a 42-banner procession thanks to artist and Bachelor of Science alumnus Bekk Wells. The banners featured 42 different scientific equations and were carried by a combination of artists and scientists to highlight the relationship between the two.

Bekk Wells' Procession for the Sciences

Throughout the Science Commons art was on display. Calgary’s Beakerhead brought a fire breathing dragon, tin fish, and inflatable bunnies placed throughout the building. The Science Commons features many clean-white walls meant for notation, collaboration and putting science on display. Over the weekend Fine Arts alumna and Dean’s Assistant Sarah Hilliard (BA Art/English ’10) put her mark on the oversized whiteboards with brilliant artwork and calligraphy throughout.

Whiteboard art by Sarah Hilliard

Fine Arts faculty members donned lab coats and put their own research and creative activities on display alongside their science colleagues.

Dr. Dana Cooley (New Media) shared her interactive audio installation entitled, (para)phrasing the garden. Using eight induction loops, technology often used to help the hearing impaired, participants wore a special receiver to hear the sounds of plants. That’s right – hear plants! Cooley used electrodes to record the electrical activity of plants. The data is then coupled with audio recordings of natural phenomena. Participants wandered the carpeted room, moving through the “garden” encountering eight different plants, each of which “speaks” through and with the sounds that shape its existence (for example: sun, rain, bees, birds, earth’s magnetic field.

“Due to the irregular “pulse” of the plants that drive the playback of sounds, at times a glitching noise occurs, interrupting the organic sound, drawing our attention to the mediated nature of our experience of the natural world,” explains Cooley.  “(para)phrasing the garden asks us to slow down, to listen to the world around us, and consider what is taking shape right beneath our ears.”

Dr. Arlan Schultz (Music) also provided a sound installation experience to attendees of the Big Bang Weekend. His installation entitled, “Manjushri Cathedral,” invited participants to engage with the movement of sound-in-space through a gestural control device called the “Spatwand.” Schultz developed the “Spatwand,” which resembles a conductor’s baton, to be used in combination with his audio spatialization software to facilitate the movement of sound through a multi-channel audio matrix.

The installation used 5 channels of surround audio and projected samples from the Monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery in Southwest India, samples of forest sounds from Southern Manitoba, samples from the shores of Lake Superior and synthesized audio into the room. The software simulated the acoustic profile of a medium-sized gothic Cathedral and turned the L7202 psychology classroom into a vaulted concert space.

“The installation presented a continuous ambient sound-world in which the movement of audio, facilitated by members of the public using the Spatwand could be easily demonstrated,” expands Schultz. “Sounds were moved, in real-time, around the hall by simple gestures which controlled avatars of the sound objects projected on a screen at the front of the room. The projection contained an image of the layout of the room and the relative positions of the speakers. The Spatwand is a novel means for audio engineers and sound artists to engage with the movement of sound-in-space and for them to incorporate the gestural world of music into their practice.”

Christine Clark (New Media) and Dr. Josephine Mills (Art) set up an interactive display allowing the public to participate in creating 3D photography while learning about their work creating virtual access to historical Blackfoot objects held in museums.

Dr. D Andrew Stewart and Dr. Monique Giroux participated in a 5-minute edition of the PUBlic Professor Series. Challenged with the constraints of only 20 seconds on a total of 15 slides, Stewart discussed Digital Musical Instruments and Their Sense Organs and Giroux presented on Sonic Sovereignty in the Age of Indigenization.

Stewart and Leanne Elias were also in attendance with information displays about the Faculty of Fine Arts Art, Sound & Technology Research IntersecXions (ASTeRIX) group. And with the Agility maker-space now housed in Science Commons there is sure to be more collisions of art and science in the near future.