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Celebrating Eon, a New Art Installation in Welch Hall

Celebrating Eon, a New Art Installation in Welch Hall

Landmarks today unveiled its newest commission in the recently renovated Welch Hall, a 37.7 x 8.93 foot video installation by Los Angeles-based artist Jennifer Steinkamp, titled Eon, which takes its inspiration from the symbiosis. At a celebration with the artist and curatorial contributor Rudolf Frieling of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Dean Goldbart spoke about the digital work and its significance for the scientific community. 

It is truly a joy and an honor to be celebrating the newest Landmarks installation: Jennifer's spectacular Eon. I had the pleasure of experiencing Eon in reality – not Zoom – just last Sunday, in the stunningly renovated Welch Hall along with my friend and colleague Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster. We were guided by Bill Haddad from the UT Department of Art and Art History. Eon really is gorgeous!

Like pioneering artist Jennifer Steinkamp, we scientists take our inspiration from the natural world. And just a glance at Eon reveals not one but many natural-looking elements: visions of living organisms and debris, each with its own character of form and motion. Elements that suggest life, not because they are simple but because they appear created by chance, to thrive not because they are in any sense Platonically perfect, but because random genetic mutations brought them to a form good enough to survive in their setting. Partners in symbiosis, engaging with one another to flourish – a lesson we can all learn from.

And like Steinkamp, we scientists are comfortable with randomness. We find it alluring that a closer look at a seemingly simple, smooth object – the surface of a cup of liquified helium – will reveal the roughness of atoms seething in perpetual, disorganized motion, even as the temperature is reduced to almost absolute zero, to where quantum uncertainty takes over.

I wonder if it will surprise you that what we live out, those of us in the College of Natural Sciences – what we get to create and teach and roll around in our minds every day – are ideas of great beauty and boldness, ideas born of crises and revolutions in humankind's conception of the world, ideas that we see as being high-water marks of human inventiveness and human culture. We in the sciences fervently believe that these ideas rightly stand alongside other great human creations: say, Shakespeare's sonnets or Bach's concertos. I have in mind some of the treasures of science: the chemical bond – the glue that holds molecules together; the double helix, graceful mechanism of our heredity; evolution by natural selection; Pasteur's germ theory of disease; quantum entanglement; black holes and the Big Bang. (What was before that? What's north of the North Pole?) Of course, we do science because it brings new capabilities. But we also do it simply because of the elevation it gives to the human spirit!

So, Jennifer, I think you have produced what the College of Natural Sciences team, including my predecessor as dean, Linda Hicke, were hoping for when they asked for science to be put on display. The confluence of science, art and community at a main campus thoroughfare is by design. Eon, will inspire our Natural Sciences community to be bold as they think about science. But, even more than that, everyone passing through the UT campus's largest academic building, Welch Hall, a hub for science (from chemistry to biochemistry to data sciences to biophysics) will be invited to stop, notice and delight, just as we scientists shall do.

For the most part, we humans are bound to our thin shell of life. And yet, through the use of our minds and our hands, we have been able to understand a great deal of the workings of Nature's grand tapestry. And if Eon is indeed a work in progress, this will reflect the reality of science – also a work in progress, ever under refinement.

For these and many other reasons, I'm thrilled by the newest Landmarks installation. Thank you, Jennifer.

​More about the work Recognized by scientists as a key component of evolution, symbiosis explains the mutual cooperation of unlike organisms—i.e. flowers and the insects and animals that pollinate them, or friendly bacteria inside the human microbiome—as critical to the survival of diverse species. In Steinkamp's installation, biomorphic shapes undulate across the screen, punctuating an aqueous backdrop with bursts of pink, yellow, and multicolored fragments. The work builds on other of the artists' projects inspired by the natural world. Learn more from Landmarks and Jennifer Steinkamp's website where a video of the piece can be found. The work may be viewed through Welch Hall's façade on Speedway and in the grand concourse.

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Saturday, 24 October 2020

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