What happens when art takes its inspiration from science?
The Flow Project was created in 2021 by Julia Buskirk and Alexandra Lakind at the University of Wisconsin–Madison to answer that question. The project pairs University of Wisconsin undergraduate student artists with water professionals from across Wisconsin to create art inspired by water.
The collaboration is designed to highlight the diversity and quality of water research across the state and the intersections of art and science. This year’s cohort produced more than 30 art pieces in a diverse range of media, including paintings, drawings, garments, sculptures, dance and music. ASC’s Anne Moser and Tim Campbell joined the project this year, and many other staff members have participated in previous years.
See water.wisc.edu/the-flow-project to view the online gallery for 2023 and the preceding two years.
Librarian Anne Moser is no stranger to projects that explore the connections between art and science. As the senior special librarian for the Wisconsin Water Library and an education coordinator for Wisconsin Sea Grant, she has curated or co-curated numerous art exhibits focused on plastics, maps, lake sturgeon and water and supported education projects that include displays of underwater photography.
But she had never been on the other side — an inspiration for an artist — until now.
Moser partnered with Samantha Martinez, an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, on a project that resulted in Martinez’s artwork titled “Open Water.” Martinez describes the work like this:
“Five ceramic tiles were carved with a flowing water texture to represent each of the Great Lakes. The tiles were bound with a variety of paper materials from Anne’s workspace, including research papers, pamphlets and posters, art from public programming events, informational handouts for literary and scientific databases, USGS topographic maps and publications by Wisconsin Sea Grant. These materials reflect Anne’s focus on the water library and highlight her work that intersects art, science and the humanities. This includes efforts in the expansion of the Wisconsin Water Library collection with resources about climate change, Traditional Knowledge, amplifying voices of marginalized and underrepresented groups and preservation of oral histories. The permanently open position of the books in this piece represents the radical accessibility of these carefully conserved and cataloged resources.”
2022 Flow Project Highlight
Gift for Wequiock Creek (right) is a hand-beaded leather tobacco pouch constructed as a gift for the community of people working together to ensure the care of the Wequiock Creek in Green Bay. The project was a partnership with undergraduate artist Ava Padilla; Julia Noordyk, ASC water quality specialist; and Stephanie Dodge, 2022 First Nations graduate assistant. go.wisc.edu/nbcr83
Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Outreach Specialist Tim Campbell is aware of the power images have for communicating science. He turned to an artist to illustrate the ways in which AIS are described by managers in prevention efforts to see if some approaches are more successful than others (go.wisc.edu/y4p5n7). Like Moser, Campbell’s work itself has never been the source of artistic inspiration before.
Campbell was paired with Aneesha Zunker, an undergraduate at UW-Green Bay. The pair spent time discussing how the word “invasive” in the phrase “aquatic invasive species” affects our perceptions, beliefs and behaviors. Language can play a role in determining how we perceive species that are ultimately just animals that have been misplaced in one way or another.
Zunker chose to trap all of the animals with fishing line in the webbed design she created because of the recurring thoughts she had regarding the “victim” or “villain” status we assigned them. She noted that while the nonnative species are each causing some level of harm to their environment, they only ended up here in the Great Lakes due to human behavior. She said, “I gained a strange sense of sympathy for these species that I formerly thought of as destructive. I wanted to direct my energy to efforts aimed towards educating others on this issue and creating sensible solutions to it.”