Watch: 2018-19 Arts, Science + Culture Initiative Graduate Collaboration Projects

By UChicago Arts

What does the study of patterns, E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, a narrative sound map of Antarctica, the decolonization of natural history museums, and an oral history project about queerness and being Middle Eastern have to do with one another?

These topics and projects were all explored as a part of the Arts, Science + Culture Initiative’s 2018-2019 Graduate Collaboration Grants, which support and orchestrate exchanges between students in fields as diverse as art history and evolutionary biology; music and neuroscience; and anthropology and the visual arts. In addition to the financial support awarded to graduate grantees, the Initiative provides staff support, monthly dinner forums, and exhibition, publication, and presentation opportunities for the graduates’ collaborative projects and independent research.

Get a look at five of the 2018-2019 Graduate Collaboration Grant projects below.

Coalesce: The Space inside Repetition

Patterns have captured the human imagination for centuries. Ripples in the clouds, coffee grounds, sand, and zebra stripes all exhibit clear ordering. All of them have a common mechanism that underlies their formation, as described by the theory of Turing patterns. But what about other patterns that seem more random? Through a negentropic collaboration, Predrag Popovic (PhD candidate, Geophysical Sciences, UChicago) and Rosemary Hall (MFA candidate, Printmedia, SAIC) researched the emergent order of seemingly random biological patterns to look at the moments where apparently dissimilar systems can show very similar behavior. Through a multi-layered exploration of patterns, this collaboration seeks to perceive the internal structure of things and the imagination’s role in constructing meaning from structure.

Faculty Advisors: Frances Whitehead (Professor, Sculpture, SAIC), Michelle Grabner (Professor, Painting and Drawing, SAIC), and Dorian Abbot (Associate Professor, Geophysical Sciences, UChicago). Funded by the Graduate Division, SAIC


Continued urbanization and development bring wild animals into cohabitation with humans. E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have an innate tendency to connect with other forms of life, but the current cohabitation of humans and other organisms is appearing unsustainable. With threats from climate change and other anthropogenic stressors, it is critical to reestablish this connection between humans and nature. Biophilia reconnects with and explores a taxonomic order of shorebirds known as the Charadriiformes through a posthumanist lens, locating their skeletal forms in a landscape with human presence felt only by impressions. Alan Perry (MFA candidate, Art and Technology Studies, SAIC) and Rossy Natale (PhD student, Integrative Biology, UChicago) explored the diversity and scientifically predicted future of these shorebirds as our world continues to change. Elucidating Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, they will consider Charadriiform biology through new media as a way to show that our sky-borne neighbors are worthy of our attention.

Faculty Advisors: Graham Slater (Assistant Professor, Organismal Biology and Anatomy and Geosciences, UChicago) and Marlena Novak (Adjunct Associate Professor, Film, Video, New Media and Animation, SAIC). Funded by the Graduate Division, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)

Dripping, Creaking, Flowing: Narratives of Hydrological Change in Antarctica

This collaboration seeks to build a sustainable emotional response to issues of global climate change in order to establish a basis for continued action toward mitigation and adaptation. Grant Macdonald (PhD candidate, Geophysical Sciences, UChicago) uses a combination of remote sensing, modeling, and field observations to study meltwater on the surface of the ice in Antarctica and Greenland. Katie Wood (MFA candidate, Sound, SAIC) is an interdisciplinary artist whose work focuses on narrative soundscape compositions that reflect intuitive and historical relationships between people and landscape. The project is a narrative sound map of the site of Grant’s studies in Antarctica, taking form as both a digital interface and a sound installation. Unlike traditional sound maps, the samples for this project will be completely fabricated in the studio, highlighting the human-controlled nature of Anthropocene landscapes. The project closes the distance between data and comprehension, using sound in conjunction with the spatial nature of the data to evoke a sense of place. Ultimately, this builds an understanding of the data and its significance by creating a meaningful experience for the audience and providing a foundation for action.

Faculty advisors: Doug MacAyeal (Professor, Geophysical Sciences, UChicago) and Brett Balogh (Adjunct Assistant Professor, Art and Technology, SAIC). Funded in part by the Graduate Division, SAIC

The Exotic is Never at Home

This project seeks to understand the relationship between collecting and conservation, the constitution of private and public natural history collections, and the importance of institutions, such as the Field Museum, in the construction and development of knowledge in the postcolonial context of the Americas. Natalia Piland (PhD candidate, Evolutionary Biology, UChicago) and Jacobo Zambrano (MFA candidate, Sculpture, SAIC) address these thematics through a short documentary film with the support of both the departments of Conservation and Museum Collections at the Field Museum. By interrogating the underlying historical narratives that conceive the museum as a space for education and dissemination of knowledge, we challenge notions of function, accessibility, and community engagement in our present context. Following the museum’s current effort to implement ethical and socially engaged models, we ask: can natural history museums be decolonized?

Faculty Advisors: John Bates (Associate Curator and Section Head, Life Sciences, The Field Museum; Committee of Evolutionary Biology, UChicago), and Frances Whitehead (Professor, Sculpture, SAIC). 

Under One Roof

What makes a space “queer” and another “Middle Eastern”? Do the people create the space as much as the space itself? These questions are raised in an oral history project documenting the relationship between two spaces held under one roof: Sayat-Nova, Chicago’s only Armenian restaurant, and Second Story, a gay bar that occupies the second floor above the restaurant. Since the 1970s, the two venues have shared a building between them, bringing forth questions about their relationship within the structure. Culminating in a research publication-cum-food menu and a final performance intervention, Niko Shahbazian (MA candidate, Middle Eastern Studies, UChicago) and Aram Atamian (MFA candidate, Performance, SAIC) speculate on the collapse of the boundaries between a veiled “ethnic” space, and an explicit “queer” space, reimagining them as a single public place. Sayat-Nova, perhaps Armenia’s most celebrated musician and poet, and a symbol of nationalist pride, was also the original name of Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 film The Color of Pomegranates, an imagined biography of his life re-presented with densely coded queer imagery. The final performance plays on the multiple identity navigations that queer Armenians of the diaspora negotiate while attempting to preserve culture and explore iterations of queer Armenianness within and outside the mythic Armenian homeland.

Faculty Advisors: Leah Feldman (Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, UChicago) and Roberto Sifuentes (Professor, Performance, SAIC). 

Head here to learn more about the Arts, Science + Culture Initiative. Interested in joining the 2019-2020 cohort? Three information sessions will be held during in September and October (Application Deadline: October 24, 2019):

Mon, Sep 16, 4:30pm
At School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Sharp Building (37 S. Wabash), Room 817

Thu, Sep 26, 5pm, Café Logan
At The University of Chicago in the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts

Mon, Oct 7, 12:30pm, Terrace Seminar Room (801)
At The University of Chicago in the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts