Our planet is facing a massive extinction once again, but for the first time we realize it.
Interview with Mara G. Haseltine.
Mara G. Haseltine (USA, France) is an international artist who works in different media such as large scale sculpture, video, installation, photo, drawing. She is a pioneer in the field of SciArt, and an environmental activist and educator. She frequently collaborates with scientists and engineers to create work that addresses the link to between our cultural and biological evolution. Her work takes place in the studio lab and field infusing scientific inquiry with poetry.
What is the fundamental idea of your creative process / research? How did you come to it?
My work investigates the link between our cultural and biological evolution and my rasion d’être is to promote the cultural shift towards a shared bio-ethic which begins with awareness. We are at a unique time in the history of our planet when for perhaps the first time a sentient being is aware of the possibility that they are responsible for a mass extinction event, in fact this will be the planets 6th mass extinction event. I believe it is the job to an artist to reflect their times and this epic story of the life and death of the biosphere as we know it is something that has come to consume all of my work.
Tell us about your studio and work: where and how you work, any rituals/habits you have to start a creative process.
Because of the pandemic I am working from home and I have converted part of my living space into a studio, but usually I have a separate studio from which I work. I have also had the opportunity to work in some scientific laboratories and cross disciplinary labs as well. I am trained as a classical sculptor but work across many different disciplines including film, performance, photography and theatre. At the beginning of each of my projects no matter what the medium I start by creating a plethora of ideas sketches and concepts. I read and write a lot about my subject matter and collect as much material about the work as possible. So, for example if I am working with photography or video, I take a lot of footage. Or if I am making a sculpture, I make a lot of sketches and models and do many material tests before I start. Then the real artistry comes from editing or selecting the best parts of what I have collected and learned and weave them into a narrative from that. Once I have settled on a narrative, for the work I look for the best people to collaborate with whether they are scientists, opera singers or structural engineers and study their work as well. For larger projects I like to assembly “teams” of people each with a different specialty to make the work.
What is your opinion on the importance of the dialogue between scientists and artists (science and art)? Why is it necessary?
Both scientist’s and artists work is similar in that it is based on discovery. While scientists work is about substantiating their hypothesis with fact, artists are about telling a story or narrative and thus engaging the viewer’s imagination. When they work together the science becomes infused with artistic poetry which makes it understandable and digestible by the general public.
What is your very particularly thing for inspiration?
My inspirations and source material are eclectic ranging from field science, Japanese garden design, permaculture, rococo ruffles, renewable energy, oysters, reef design, biomimicry, microbiology, atmospheric science, bioinformatics, anthropology and philosophy.
Are you involved in any exhibition at the moment? How is it going?
I am currently working with the Explorer’s Club and the United Nations on a world-wide virtual “Oceans Week” which will focus on youth and innovation June 3rd — June 6th. So far it is going well, thank you. I am also creating a virtual exhibition of a show entitled “Portraits of my Mother” in which many of the works I made in my studio using a self-fashioned microscope attached to a digital camera.
What do you think about virtual visits/exhibitions that have started with the virus outbreak? Could it be a new interesting experience for artists and for viewers?
I think that there is nothing like experiencing something first-hand or in the flesh. However, a virtual platform can be very inclusive in that people from all around the globe can connect to each other easily which is a very powerful experience.
Tell us about your memorable experience in art Residence? Where it was?
My most memorable artist in residence was with Tara Expeditions which was studying planktonic ecosystems and their relationship to climate change. I was able to be on their boat a schooner of the coast of Chile in the high seas for almost a month. It was simply incredible, the ocean there is fed by the Humboldt current so it is bursting with life and biodiversity, It was on this residency that I began my work with microplastics and plankton because I found so many microplastics mixed with my plankton I created the work the multi-media installation “La Boheme: A Portrait of Our Oceans in Peril” In addition, an award winning documentary was made about this project called “Invisible Oceans Plankton and Plastic” To see more stills of this project and other sculptural pieces about microscopic oceanic forms go to my website: www.calamara.com
Tintinnid Plankton collected off coast of Chile
Have you done any other jobs than being an artist?
I have been a Professor of Science and Environmental Art, as well as an environmental activist and organizer.
What is your dream project?
It is a long-term project that I am currently designing entitled “The Rococo Cocco Reef” It is an underwater sculpture installation and reef restoration project using innovative and sustainable materials. The structure is based on a unicellular plankton called a coccolithophore. It is this project that I will be displaying virtually during Ocean’s Week. Please see animated video here: “The Rococo Cocco Reef”.
Please tell us about an interesting story behind a creation of one of your works.
In 2006 I installed one of my largest sculptures to date, 12 meters in diameter, SARS Inhibited. The Sculpture is situated in a reflecting pool within the central plaza of Singapore’s Biotech Mecca ‘Biopolis’. The Biopolis campus was designed by the renowned architect Zaha Hadid. SARS Inhibited celebrates and illustrates the groundbreaking discovery made in 2002-2003, by an international team of scientists. Almost immediately after finished my installation of SARS Inhibited, I had one of the most powerful moments of my life — art literally met science in the Biopolis plaza when I encountered Professor Rolf Hilgenfeld in front of my just completed sculpture. Rolf hails from University of Lubeck in Germany and has 30-years of experience as a structural biologist under his belt. Rolf led a German team of structural biologists that played a pivotal role in the discovery that inspired SARS Inhibited as outlined in the 2003, May 14th New York Times Article, Experimental Drug May Fight SARS, Researchers Say. At the time of our meeting, Rolf was visiting Singapore to give a talk on SARS-CoV, and instantly recognized the structure of the sculpture from his research. This recognition deeply moved me and I felt I had met my true collaborator for SARS Inhibited for the first time.