Posted on August 6, 2020 at 3:00 PM by Lilah Anderson
As an arts educator at a university with strong programs in sciences and technology, I am interested in presenting students with works of art that engage in the intersection of the arts and sciences. Interdisciplinary connections in a work of art can provoke new lines of discussion and build impact and a feeling of connectedness for students. There are many examples, particularly in the Art on Campus Collection, of public works of art that merge arts and sciences. For my third Educator’s Choice blog this summer I wanted to focus on one such work of art in our collection. Greeting all who enter the third floor of the library, Rachel Sussman’s La Llareta #0308-2B31 (3,000+ years old; Atacama Desert, Chile) has both significant aesthetic and scientific impact.
IMAGE ABOVE: La Llareta #0308-2B31 (3,000+ years old; Atacama Desert, Chile), 2008 by Rachel Sussman. Located on the third floor of Parks Library. Purchased by Parks Library. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2019.11
This large-size photograph is part of a series by the artist called the Oldest Living Things in the World. Spanning over ten years of research and looking, at times, more like a scientific study than an artistic endeavor, Sussman determined and documented the world’s oldest living things. She used 2000 years or older as the threshold for species to be photographed; year zero in a human timescale.
In partnership with biologists and ecologists, Sussman traveled across the globe documenting these extraordinary species. This grounding in science can allow students who are approaching art from a background of STEM, to access the photograph in a way that connects to them and their area of study and can often spur better conversation. Sussman talks about this project as a way to envision a large timescale that is hard for humans to comprehend. These images do ask the viewer to consider the age of the subjects, but also the fragility of our changing environment and the deep human impact on the planet, often putting these very species at great risk.
While this work of art is powerful in its process and the subject matter, the image itself is striking and it is a photograph worth marveling at. The large shrubs from the Atacama Desert, La Llareta, are otherworldly and deceptive in their form. Are these rocks covered in moss? Some kind of giant slime mold? The stark landscape evokes how one might imagine an alien planet. Sussman captures this place with a thoughtfulness and keen artistic eye. It is her ability to capture these species and landscapes and create art that makes the subject all the more powerful. In this case, the aesthetic encounter happens first and then the conversations about timescale, environment and biological documentation can begin. The eye-catching image is what brings people closer and allows them an entrance into this story.
As our students return to the library, I hope to once again see people stop and look at this photograph and hopefully be transported in their thought and imagination. Until then, I encourage you to watch Sussman speak about this project in her TED talk and have a look at the other work she is doing on her website. I also hope this inspires you to look at our public art collection with an eye towards the merging of art and science and to disrupt the idea that these fields are incongruous.
IMAGE BELOW: Lilah Anderson, Educator of Visual Literacy and Learning, describes La Llareta #0308-2B31 on a recent tour.