October 8, 2019

Biology and Art

The UMCA launches a collaboration with the Natural History Collections in October

One of the exciting happenings on the UMass Amherst campus this fall is a seed of something huge to come: an innovative collaboration between the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) and the Natural History Collections. The pilot project for this partnership, ongoing through 2020/21, is Fielding, a show by guest artist Emily Tareila ’19G (MFA), mounted in pop-up fashion in Morrill Science Center.

Tareila’s show is the first herald of the grant-funded gallery exhibition in the UMCA to take place in 2020, which will feature a guest artist in residence. This ongoing merger between the fields of art and biology will use UMass Amherst’s vast natural history collection as a resource for artists to engage the topic of mass extinction and other ecological themes of global concern. The exposure to different audiences that the shows create will make known the rich resources within the collections, and that they are available not only to conservationists and scientists, but to all members of the community—who might not be part of the traditional scientific world, but who are very much part of the world we share.

Dormroom Window Murals

Stop by Morrill to see the installation! Follow the yellow….

“People can come in and learn something new about their campus and their world, and reemerge refreshed,” says Assistant Professor of Biology Madelaine Bartlett, who oversees the university’s botanical collections. “One thing that is exciting about these pop-up exhibitions, of which Fielding is the first, is that they make the most of spaces we have at the university where we can showcase these amazing collections.”

In a time of global environmental shifts, the methodical catalog of species that natural history collections furnish is a particularly valuable resource. “The collections are the foundation of a lot of biological research, documenting and recording life on earth, for scientists to study in terms of what has happened, and what’s coming,” continues Bartlett. “We have a legacy of herbarium records that can now be used to track the impact of climate change.”

Fielding uses selections from the Natural History Collections as well as original artwork to show the natural history and human uses of goldenrod, its cultural significance as well as ecology.

“Our innovative approach was to invite an artist as a catalyst in bringing greater public awareness to the UMass collections,” says Loretta Yarlow, director of the UMCA. Tareila was chosen as the inaugural artist, explains Yarlow, “due to her interest in fostering connections in the ways in which people interact with nature and the landscape, and exploring that empathy and relationship through her art.”

The exhibition will be on view Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. through October 30 in 144 Morrill Science Center 2 South. The closing reception is October 30 from 5 to 7 p.m.