Five-day photo+sphere pairs art and science

PICTURE THIS: photo+sphere project director Eric Baden saw the event as an opportunity to “take another issue of urgency, which has to do with care for the environment,” he says, “and the fact that, just like Asheville has a big craft community, there’s also a really important climate-based community.” Pictured, “Sea Level Rise Visualizing Climate Change” by Carrie and Eric Tomberlin

Although next week’s photo+sphere — a series of exhibitions, workshops, film screenings, artist talks and keynote presentations — will mark the inaugural iteration of the event, it’s not without precedent. The art and science happening, which “explores the environment through photography and photo-media,” according to the website, is, in a way, a follow-up to 2016’s photo+craft.

That program, organized by Eric Baden, a professor of art at Warren Wilson College, examined the two named disciplines and where they intersected. “It was a critical and a popular success,” says Baden, noting great work, feedback, attendance and standing-room-only events, as well as community buy-in.

Baden received many queries about holding photo+craft again. He saw the opportunity to “take another issue of urgency, which has to do with care for the environment,” he says, “and the fact that, just like Asheville has a big craft community, there’s also a really important climate-based community.” In considering the junction of those fields, photo+sphere was conceptualized. It runs Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 7-11, in various locations in and around Asheville.

“Photography, as the child of art and science, [is simultaneously] a prominent and creative artistic practice. It serves the sciences and has since its very beginning,” says Baden. “The photo-related aspect seemed important. And so much work has been done in terms of looking at the state of the world and beyond the world.”

The programming for photo+sphere was created by a six-member team, including five local artists. The sixth partner is scientist Ned Gardiner, a liaison for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate program office and an architect of the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, which provides “scientific tools, information and expertise to help people manage their climate-related risks and opportunities,” according to the initiative’s website. Gardiner, with Buckminster Fuller Institute co-chair David McConville, will lead immersive visualization experiences of cosmotroping and geoscoping — tours of Earth and the known universe, with opportunities for reflection on the human capacity to affect planetary forces.

Each of the photo+sphere teammates planned an event. Picturing Purity, a photography/new media exhibition curated by Anna Helgeson, is “designed to engage the public in a nuanced conversation about environmentalism with images that call attention to purity myths in our culture and demonstrate new ways of visualizing our relationship to the planet,” according to show notes. At the Sonic Retreat Workshop, coordinated by Colby Caldwell, participants will gather found sounds for an audio diary.

Baden’s contribution, The Cloud Library, Volume 1, which will be on view at Warren Wilson College’s Elizabeth Holden Gallery, “is an exhibition that explores photographic engagement with the sky and one of its more visually transformative elements, clouds,” as the website states. The “Volume 1” in the name concedes that, while seven of the 10 artists whose work is included are from outside of the U.S., only Japanese-born Daisuke Yokota is not from the West. “Because it’s limited in that way, and there’s so much work that I’ve been looking at — historically and contemporary work — christening it ‘Volume 1’ enabled me to acknowledge what’s not covered and sets me up to move forward later on,” Baden explains.

The Cloud Library began with images of our planet from unmanned and then manned space flights in the 1960s. “Seeing the whole Earth, its atmosphere and clouds moving and oceans moving … affected a real change in our sense of who and where we are,” Baden says. All of the work in the exhibit is from the past 50 years.

The basic idea in creating the exhibition was “relating how we see clouds and how we see images. It’s about systems of images,” says Baden. “There’s nothing in The Cloud Library that is presented as a single photograph. … It’s about tracking things over time and space, how we interact with our atmosphere and how we represent that, and what representation is now. It’s not what it used to be.”

The photo+sphere keynote speakers also represent a broad range of perspectives on the intersection of photography and science. Conceptual and visual artist Mel Chin, whose large-scale projects “Unmoored” and “Wake” debuted in New York’s Times Square this summer, will give the talk The Arctic Is Asheville at The Asheville Masonic Temple on Thursday.

The next evening, at The STEAM Studio, Sharon Harper will speak on Some Observations on Movements of the Earth. Harper, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow and a professor of visual and environmental studies at Harvard University, “works with photography and video, exploring how technology mediates our relationship with the natural world and generates perceptual experiences,” as her bio states.

And artist and environmental activist Justin Brice Guariglia, a Howard Foundation Fellow at Brown University and an artist-in-residence at the Anchorage Museum and Woods Hole Research Center, will offer the talk We Are The Asteroid at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center on Saturday.

“I hope [attendees] experience it in ways I can’t imagine,” Baden says of photo+sphere. He’s not joking. “In some cases, we may confirm what people know. In other cases, we may be totally outside of what we know or think we know. It’s about that range.”

The idea is not for people to leave and donate to the Sierra Club, Baden says. Or, he adds with a laugh, forbid their children to become art majors. “We’re not promoting a viewpoint. We’re providing serious possibilities,” he explains. “The point is to present serious work in a variety of realms and bring people and this work together to see what happens.”

WHAT: photo+sphere, photoplusavl.com
WHERE: Various locations around Asheville and at Warren Wilson College
WHEN: Wednesday-Sunday, Nov. 7-11. See website for full schedule

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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