Waste Land: An Intersection Between Science and Art

What exactly is the connection between art and science?

CCA's division of humanities and sciences has developed a thoroughly interdisciplinary, two-year thematic curricular project called Exploring Science in the Studio to keep this question on the minds of undergraduates, as they consider courses that satisfy their science requirements.

About Exploring Science in the Studio

According to Assistant Director of Humanities and Sciences Dominick Tracy, "The initiative and exhibition evolved out of an earlier science fair concept, which relied on the work produced in the science courses to build the annual exhibitions.

"That was successful," Tracy reveals, "but we wanted students to bring the science more closely into their practices and to allow the exhibition to really showcase the students' best creative work, which is produced in their studio courses with their studio faculty."

Former Director of Humanities and Sciences Rachel Schreiber went on to develop Exploring Science in the Studio to bring science instruction directly into CCA courses that would also address specific issues.

Studio vs. Traditional Courses

The selected studio courses offer an interactive, interdisciplinary environment that enriches the in-studio interplay between making and science. Unlike traditional science curricula -- often sequestered in general education requirements -- CCA students also benefit from the exchange they have in their major studios with the invited "embedded scientists."

Each identified theme aims to explore ways to meaningfully integrate science in art and design education. Schreiber further explains, "The themes have to be flexible; they should not be interpreted in one way only. ... And there should be lots of autonomy in the course design."

Because all undergraduates have science requirements, selected courses represent the interdisciplinarity of the college's principal areas of study: architecture, design, fine arts, and humanities and sciences (and in 2012-13 a Diversity Studies course was also included).

Schreiber adds: "The goal of this process is to foster a greater awareness among students of how science and art can be combined to address issues of a global nature."

President Beal Supports the Initiative

The effort to integrate science and art is not only evidenced in CCA's curriculum, but also in messages coming directly from President Stephen Beal. At the 106th commencement exercises, Beal addressed why balancing art and science today is paramount for success:

"As practiced today, the arts and sciences have much in common. The studio and the laboratory are learn-by-doing, learn-by-making educational experiences. The iterative process and experimentation are key components to advances and discoveries in both fields.

"Artists, designers, and scientists alike are using data in new and interesting ways to inform their practices and effect positive change. Productive cross-disciplinary collaborations are being formed in both the academy and in the workplace."

Read the complete 106th commencement speech »

Waste Land Explores Science/Art Balance

The theme for the Exploring Science in the Studio project changes every two years, and each theme must addresses a specific area of study. Water was the inaugural theme in 2011 and 2012, and for the 2013 and 2014 academic years, the theme is waste. (Other considered themes include gravity, air, and dirt.)

Sustainability, Solutions, and Success

"Most the selected courses deal with sustainability," explains Schreiber. "This program acknowledges that artists and designers have a role to play in creating solutions to climate change … which requires collaborating with scientists. We recognize increasingly that our students -- our undergraduate students -- are likely to be in collaboration with other disciplines."

Ultimately, this project upholds two critical goals for the college: to integrate science more fully into the overall curriculum and to contribute to CCA's mission toward sustainability.

Related: "Water Works: Science-Infused Courses Underscore Sustainable Design, Artistic Expression"

Exhibitions Showcase Student Projects

Additionally, the curricular project results in an accompanying student exhibition that showcases the students' themed projects. Thus far, each of the two exhibitions have taken place on the Oakland campus: Water Works took place February 4-11, 2011, at the Tecoah Bruce Gallery at the Oliver Art Center; and Waste Land, which took place November 6-10, 2012, at the College Avenue Galleries.

"The most gratifying part of the exhibition," states Schreiber, "is seeing artwork from all divisions -- especially in the undergraduate program. The works have common themes and cross disciplines. The exhibition brings them together -- across campuses and across majors.

Waste Land Faculty & Courses

In fall 2012, five CCA faculty members representing the college's major areas of study (mentioned above) invited "embedded scientists" to visit their classrooms to provide additional instruction that addresses waste.

Course instructors were encouraged to devise their own unique approach to addressing the designated theme.


"Eco-Trashformations" Visual Studies (humanities and sciences)
Instructor: Celeste Connor

Connor (MFA 2013), an associate professor in the Visual Studies Program (part of humanities and sciences), invited Dr. Thomas Azwell from UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management to help students address the relationship between art and science.

"These two areas of inquiry have an ancient relationship that can be traced back to Egypt through the time of Leonardo [da Vinci] to that of [James] Turrell now," explains Connor.

"This long interrelationship suggests that the two disciplines can't exist without each other. For too long now hyper-rational iterations of science and technology have dominated the West as one of humankind's dominant belief systems. It's my hope that the arts in their new configurations will regain their former social and cultural import."

The project resulted in the Waste Land exhibition that was held November 6-10 in the College Avenue Galleries.

Azwell on the exhibition: "I thought the student projects came out better than expected. The most rewarding part for me was hearing the student's being able to verbalize the connection between my science and their art."

See images of Waste Land »

Materiality & Space

"Materiality & Space: Strategies for Recalibrating Excess in Design" Interior Design (architecture)
Instructor: Amy Campos

View course blog »

In an abstract about her Materiality & Space studio course, Campos writes: "This course questions the monumentalizing and erasing of sites as a way of rethinking design and material culture moving into the 21st century and beyond. What properties of material (durability, construction, evolution, inherent cultural value and embodied knowledge) would we deem critical in the context of a 10,000-year timeline, a one-day timeline?"

The following courses were also offered as part of the Exploring Science in the Studio curriculum during the 2012-13 year:

"Objects and Spaces" Interaction Design (design)
Instructor: Beau Trincia

"Sculpture 2" Sculpture (fine arts)
Instructor: Terri Friedman

"Happyland: Ecology, Esthetics" Diversity Studies
Instructor: Lauren Elder

Future Waste Land Courses

Look for Jennifer Gabyrs, senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, to kick off the Waste Land exhibition this October.

Upcoming 2013-14 Waste Land courses include the following:

"Literature Forms Across Genres" Writing and Literature (humanities and sciences)
Instructor: Opal Adisa
fall 2013

"Workshop: Chromophobia" Sculpture (fine arts)
Instructor: Terri Friedman
fall 2013

Note: CCA anticipates having in the fall additional Waste Land courses representing architecture and other design courses.