Art exhibit seeks to shed light on climate change

A new exhibit at the Bell Museum combines the ideas of art with science to draw diverse crowds.

A mix of art and science – two fields that are often seen as separate and distinct – will be melded together Saturday at the Bell Museum of Natural History.

University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists and Wisconsin artists collaborated to create “Paradise Lost: Climate Change in the North Woods” to educate the public about climate change’s effect on Minnesota’s unique northern ecosystem.

Don Luce, the exhibits curator at the Bell Museum, said the exhibition emphasizes artistic communication.

“What we’re looking at here is to have an artistic view of it – an aesthetic and emotional reaction that might help people who might not be so attuned to the facts and figures,” he said.

This multimedia exhibition will include paintings, drawings, sculpture, journals and music by 20 Wisconsin artists, accompanied by informational panels with scientific information written by the researchers.

This project is part of a four- month series of programs about climate change at the Bell Museum, Luce said. He said the museum wants to focus on climate change’s effects on Minnesota wildlife and resources, rather than the human causation.

He said Minnesota’s central location on the continent leads to extreme weather with large temperature changes.

“These things could impact the natural resources of the state,” including causing a loss of species, Luce said.

David Mladenoff, the project’s director and University of Wisconsin-Madison associate professor in forest ecology and management, said this exhibit reflects a growing trend.

“There is a growing movement of artists working in forests with scientists, picking up on scientific knowledge and using that as a catalyst to do work outside,” he said.

Some artists, however, are critical of this trend, he said.

“Artists think that art shouldn’t be mission-oriented, shouldn’t teach a particular point of view,” he said. “I think it’s important because it does communicate with people in a different way.”

While some people wouldn’t be inclined to attend a scientific talk, they might be inclined to go to an art show, he said. Mladenoff said this exhibition, which has already been shown in Wisconsin, has drawn a mixed audience.

Mary Burns, an artist who wove a basket for the exhibition, also disagrees with critics.

“We need to do whatever we can to help the people understand what’s going on with our climate,” she said. “If that takes art to depict certain ideas I’m all in favor of it.”

But Taimoor Dar, a journalism senior, said he doesn’t think combining science and art is unique.

“Art goes with anything, and most people derive their ideas from nature,” Dar said. The exhibit has potential to be interesting, he said.

“Some people get art, some people get science,” he said.

The opening reception for Paradise Lost is Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m., and the exhibition goes through April 11. The reception will include some of the Wisconsin artists.