Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Science/Art

One of the most wonderful things about the Exploratorium Teacher Institute is that they encourage us to see the beauty and aesthetics of science.

During the first week, my class worked with an artist-in-residence (how many other science museums have artists-in-residence?) to make short films. We worked in pairs, chose a "conceptual lens" that was a math or science concept, then planned and filmed a 5 minute video showing the world through that lens. My partner and I chose "convergence" and then explored the museum to find exhibits and other images showing things coming together. Our video was not fabulous; the museum is fairly dark inside and many of our images were dark or murky. Other groups made really beautiful films in only an hour, about circles, large/small, symmetry, etc. Filming sand flowing out of a pendulum onto a moving belt, metal balls undulating in the pendulum snake, streams of water trickling down a ramp, diverging and converging, marbles spinning into the center of a funnel... the films reminded me that the exhibits here convey science ideas, but also a lot of beauty. We showed our films and then discussed what conceptual lens might have been used in making each film. This was an activity I could imagine doing with students either in art class or perhaps at the beginning or end of the year in a math or science class.

Some exhibits are purposefully artistic in nature. Right now the museum has a visiting collection of automata, which are simple toys that work through gears, levers, cams, etc. After looking at the automata in the exhibit, we built our own - I will post a photograph of mine when I get back to NYC. The Exploratorium also has a grant to create exhibits around "listening," and have invited experimental instrument makers to lead workshops and help develop exhibits.

Today, just for the Teacher Institute, the Learning Studio here put together a film festival of short films and excerpts from longer ones. Many of the films could be used with students and are quite educational about science concepts, but what struck me was how funny and beautiful the films were. We started with a film called Zea, which showed an ordinary activity from start to finish, very close up. The fascinating part was trying to figure out what was happening - and then the moment at the end when it became obvious. At different moments during the film, I believed I was looking at the surface of another planet, a frog or fish egg cell, an eyeball, an egg cooking, and many other things... I have been inspired to experiment with my school's digital video camera and see if I can make short films like this one on my own. It is certainly a new way of seeing for me.

"Human subtlety... will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature." -Leonardo DaVinci

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