Monday, February 1, 2021

 

A graphite drawing of the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory viewed from inside its dome, drawn by Russell W. Porter during its construction in 1939.An ink and watercolor drawing of a fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, with the Blistered mutation leading to veiny wings, by Edith M. Wallace, July 31, 1930.A travel poster of exoplanet Kepler-16b, “the land of two suns,” created by Joby Harris and The Studio at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2016.A glass plate photograph of x-ray diffraction of nickel chlorostannate hexahydrate crystal created by Linus Pauling in approximately 1929.

The Caltech Archives have been awarded a grant to prepare for the next edition of the region-wide arts initiative Pacific Standard Time, scheduled to open in 2024. Caltech is one of 45 cultural, educational, and scientific institutions throughout Southern California to receive support from the Getty Foundation for their projects, all of which will explore the intersection of art and science.

Pacific Standard Time: Art x Science x L.A. will include dozens of simultaneous exhibitions and programs focused on the intertwined histories of art and science, past and present, that together address some of the most complex challenges of the 21st century—from climate change and environmental racism to the current pandemic and artificial intelligence—and the creative solutions these problems demand.  

The Caltech Archives’ project, “Virtual Witnessing: Seeing Caltech Science,” will tell stories from Caltech’s 133 years of using art and images in science and engineering research, science communication, and building campus community.

“Scientific images convey arguments, depicting nature not disinterestedly but in order to persuade viewers of particular theories and interpretations,” writes Principal Investigator and University Archivist Peter Collopy. “Historians, sociologists, and archivists of science, as well as scholars of science communication and visual studies, and indeed some scientists themselves, are increasingly coming to see laboratories as systems for the production of images as much as of textual documents.”

Examining Caltech as a site for research on the use and evolution of scientific images over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the project asks questions relevant to the themes of Art x Science x L.A: “How did the proliferation of photography change science? When did scientists use photographs, when illustrations, and why? How have the scientific uses of each of these media changed as they have become digital? How have scientists creating images outside the art world learned from and taught those within it? How have they incorporated artistic ideals into their work?”

The structure of “Virtual Witnessing: Seeing Caltech Science” is to have twelve researchers—scholars of art history, visual culture, and the history of science—pursuing their own projects on the history of Caltech’s engagements with the visual, some within science and some beyond. Research will be supported by the historical collections of the Caltech Archives, and by investigation of the image collections held by laboratories and other research groups across campus. Depending on individual contributor’s projects, research will also likely extend to off-campus sites of Caltech science, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Palomar Observatory.

Claudia Bohn-Spector, the curator for “Virtual Witnessing,” notes that “images are often considered a by-product of science when they are really constituting science.” She hopes the project will illuminate how these visual objects originate in and move beyond Southern California—not just the images themselves, but also “unique ways of collaborating with other makers in the cultural field.”  Her work will draw from these contributions to produce a synthetic exhibition on Caltech’s visual culture.

The project participants include Caltech researchers Brian Jacobson, Professor of Visual Culture, and Anne Sullivan, Weisman Postdoctoral Instructor in Visual Culture, as well as independent scholars and researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Santa Barbara; Yale University; University of California, Berkeley; and Northwestern University.Caltech joins a diverse community of Southern California institutions that will present exhibitions, publications, performances, and public conversations and programs in 2024 as part of Pacific Standard Time: Art x Science x L.A. In Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980, more than 60 cultural institutions joined forces between October 2011 and March 2012 and rewrote the history of the birth and impact of the L.A. art scene. In Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, presented from September 2017 through January 2018, more than 70 institutions collaborated on a paradigm-shifting examination of Latin American and Latinx art, seen together as a hemispheric continuum.

“We applaud our partners for embracing remarkably diverse and imaginative approaches to this PST’s theme of art and science,” says Joan Weinstein, director of the Getty Foundation. “Beyond the inventiveness they are bringing to their individual research topics, they will build new community partnerships and engage the public in civic dialogues around pressing issues of our time. This will be a PST defined by creativity, curiosity, and community.”
 

Pictured:

  • A graphite drawing of the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory viewed from inside its dome, drawn by Russell W. Porter during its construction in 1939.
  • An ink and watercolor drawing of a fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, with the Blistered mutation leading to veiny wings, by Edith M. Wallace, July 31, 1930.
  • A travel poster of exoplanet Kepler-16b, “the land of two suns,” created by Joby Harris and The Studio at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2016.
  • A glass plate photograph of x-ray diffraction of nickel chlorostannate hexahydrate crystal created by Linus Pauling in approximately 1929.