“Arts & the Environment”
Through Thursday, Nov. 6
All installations (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), 5 – 11 p.m.
Duderstadt Center

Art has always had a poignant power of capturing people in ways reality often cannot. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” opened America’s eyes to the horrors of slavery. Rosie the Riveter convinced women they could help in the war effort alongside their male counterparts. “Rent” and “Angels in America” brought the reality of AIDS to New York City. And today, in the 21st century, artists hope to expand people’s outlook on the environment.

“Arts on Earth” is an initiative at Michigan that acknowledges this paradigm and strives to integrate art into the intellectual life of the University — believing that the creative process can provide new, worthwhile insight among the scientific, political and social discourse on campus. Through interdisciplinary meetings, class courses and projects, “Arts on Earth” encourages students and faculty from all Schools and Colleges within the University to collaborate in projects that realize cross-disciplinary concepts. “Arts on Earth” has made it their mission to take academics beyond their desks and to let them physically make something.

Last year, the theme was “Arts & Minds,” which explored the relationship between art and neurology — how evolutionary biology and cognitive science affects the production of art and artists themselves. This year the theme is “Arts & the Environment,” which encompasses several events running through Nov. 7. The main feature, which includes a symposium on Nov. 5 from 5-11 p.m., is a collection of installations based on the elements, placed throughout the Duderstadt Center. Twenty faculty members specializing in fields such as engineering, music, earth sciences, English, photography and more have created four multimedia installations: “Earth,” “Air,” “Fire” and “Water.”

Each installation creates a new, abstract interpretation of the primordial elements. Fusing the visceral — through paintings, dances, songs and poetry — with the technological — through sensors, digital media and mechanical structures — audience members get to interact with the world around them in a synthesized, intellectualized format. “Arts on Earth” hopes such interactive experiences will inspire viewers to engage in dialogue about our planet, and understand how truly precious the world is.

“Earth,” in the center of the Duderstadt, displays photos of Earth from different perspectives. Some images depict the planet from thousands of miles away and others from the ground far beneath our feet. As viewers walk through the installation, lights bounce from photograph to photograph and digital sounds fill the space.

Yet the whole piece isn’t overwhelming. In the middle of this media-focused display is a simple table, filled with various forms of earth: dirt, rocks, sediment. Viewers are encouraged to play with the diverse mixture of colors and textures we walk on everyday.

“Air,” on the other hand, isn’t so tangible. In fact, it hangs from the ceiling of the Duderstadt atrium. Spherical balloons are suspended above visitors, each scaled in relation to a different type of consumer carbon emission. Juxtaposed with the horizontally-arranged presentation is a tube filled with thousands of ping-pong balls powerfully and continuously vacuumed upwards. They serve as a reminder that the invisible power that is air circulates and determines the climate of the entire planet.

“Fire,” mounted on the ceiling of the entryway of the Duderstadt, derives inspiration from the laws of thermodynamics. The creators designed 22 aluminum cells to light up according to a designated program. Like cones with their ends cut off, the cells start in a circle at the top and taper down into elliptical shapes as they point toward the viewer. As someone approaches the piece, microcontrollers and sensors operate lights and sounds that flicker and move from cell to cell. The dance of light is alluring and captivating aesthetically, while simultaneously an astounding display of technology.

The piece acts as a reminder that, unlike the other elements, fire is a symbol of human progress and technology. It isn’t necessary for life, but for development.

Finally, “Water,” in the Duderstadt Video Studio, takes audiences on a metaphorical journey underwater in an original performance involving dance, music and spoken-word. Throughout the performance, traveling video images and sound-art immerse the audience in this mysterious portion of our planet. The team includes an Emmy-award winning videographer, a painter and aquatic ecologist, a Senior Broadcast Producer at Michigan Radio, an Aquatic Research Scientist and an Instructor of English in the MFA Writing Program.

Higher education tends to emphasize commentary of finished projects. Scholars analyze books, artworks and films. They solve equations already established in textbooks. Rarely are they encouraged to make something. The “Arts on Earth” initiative is working to reverse this trend and put the process of creating into the academic life.

Along with these installations, “Arts on Earth” will be sponsoring several other events throughout campus, including lectures, films and discussions, all about art and the environment.

To learn more, check out the website, ArtsOnEarth.org. Or head over to North Campus Wednesday evening for a non-stop night of everything on the face of the Earth.


Looking for more events that are a part of the “Arts & The Environment: Earth, Air, Fire and Water” project. There are plenty to be found.

—Through Nov. 6th: “The Giving Tree: Swap Stuff for Sustainability” in the Dana Building Commons and the Duderstadt Connector Hallway. Leave things you don’t need and take others you do at the Giving Tree.

—Through Nov. 7th: “Gypsy Pond Music X,” an annual installation created by School of Music Associate Prof., Stephen Rush, and the UM Digital Music Ensemble, has been added as an “Arts & The Environment” piece this year. The work uses electronic music, light and movement sensors and sculpture on the Moore pond, and is currently on display.

—Wednesday, Nov. 5th: opening night of the installations from 5 to 11 p.m.

6 p.m.: “Water”
Duderstadt Center, Video Studio

7 p.m.: Keynote address by David Orr
Stamps Auditorium of the Walgreen Center

Orr, the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College, has written five books about environmental issues and ecology and pioneered a $7.2 million Environment Studies Center at Oberlin.

9 – 11 p.m.: “Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance,” in the Stamps Auditorium of the Walgreen Center, and “Chinatown,” in the Chesebrough Auditorium of the Duderstadt Center.

“Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance” is a non-verbal film about the clash between nature and technological urbanization, all within an original score by Philip Glass. “Chinatown” is a Roman Polanski 1974 film noir about a plot to redirect Southern California public water for private development.

Thursday, Nov. 6:

“Water” 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Duderstadt Center, Video Studio

5 p.m.: “Artist Talk: Theo Jansen”
Michigan Theatre

Jansen is a kinetic sculptor who uses engineering to create sculptures. His most famous works, resembling the skeletons of animals, walk along the beaches of the Netherlands powered by wind. He is also renowned for his work on genetic algorithms, through which he someday hopes to create artificial life. Jansen has also been an avid environmentalist his entire career. All his works are powered with renewable-energy with zero-emissions.

9 p.m.: Film: “Chinatown”
Duderstadt Center, Chesebrough Auditorium

Friday, Nov. 7
1 p.m.: “Water”
Duderstadt Center, Video Studio

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