By Yanina Onyewenjo
Walking through shreds of colorful paper growing on trees like fungi, you look around, and find yourself surrounded by trash-turned-treasure. Futuristic metallic dogs, giant nests filled with football-sized eggs, and otherworldly figures catch your eye. You’re not in Kansas anymore, you’re in the cultural wave of the 2016 NestGen art exhibit at the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC).
Standing alongside art constructed from recycled materials, Lesley A. Northup, the dean of the Honors College, and Ranu Jung, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, recently inaugurated the 2016 NestGen art exhibit at the Engineering Center.
In aspiring to foster creativity and multidisciplinary problem-solving, science and art merged. This collaboration was inspired by a vision to bring culture and innovative discussion to the engineering campus, and to eventually bring more of the Honors College Art Collection to the Engineering Center on a rotating basis.
“Engineers are the ultimate artists. They take an abstract idea and turn it into reality – from exploring the environment and designing machines to innovating medical devices. By hosting this art collection, in conjunction with the Honors College, we hope our future engineers will explore their own creativity and find inspiration as they pursue innovation in their respective disciplines,” Jung said. “Like art, engineering helps move humanity forward, so this exhibit was a natural fit for us.”
For the CEC, this collaboration is an inspiration for students to think big, and as curator Leonor Anthony put it, to compel students to “always think about our planet.” Anthony, the Honors College artist-in-residence, initiated the NestGen art exhibit two years ago with the hope of responding to unsustainable development in aesthetic ways. That first exhibit, displayed in what is now the Avenue of the Arts in front of the Frost Art Museum, was widely viewed and caught the eye of President Mark B. Rosenberg, who toured the sculptures with his family.
Dean Northup noted that “Anthony’s efforts with the Honors College to bring art to students have to date resulted in three environmentally themed outdoor art exhibits, as well as an Honors College professional art collection valued currently at close to $300,000. This dovetails with Honors’ commitment to infuse the arts throughout the curriculum.”
To express the urgency of environmental threats to the global FIU community, 17 internationally-renowned artists responded with artworks made from reused materials. Artists such as Ruben Santurian, Lili(ana) and Aimee Perez participated in the exhibit. The artwork represents the world as it is today, a coalescence of unique components to form a greater whole, said one of the artists.
In looking at Perez’s mixed media sculpture of a nest, The More You Squeeze, two engineering students tried interpreting its symbolism. Investigating the use of large, rusted metal rods, screws and clamps to hold fragile chicken eggs, the students saw “innocence” in the eggs as nature, held in the tight grip of an increasingly sterile world. These inquiries are central to the Honors College and College of Engineering and Computing, which hope to challenge values and inspire innovation to improve conditions for all humanity.
“As engineers, it is our duty to care about the state and preservation of our planet,” said Jorge Cisternas, mechanical engineering student and NACME ambassador. “This is why this exhibit will help teach the future generation of students about what we can do to help our planet.”
Anthony’s iToilet installation represents the “life-changing” effects of technology in a capitalist society. Created from a skeleton found in the trash pile of a chiropractor’s office, iToilet incites curiosity and challenges values.
“The skeleton represents the human race, while the various cables, remotes and computer parts symbolize…reliance on technology,” Anthony explained. “The resulting environmental damage… is represented by the toilet itself.”
Covered in a metallic glaze, Anthony’s work expresses a “futuristic” aridity, said Melissa Garcia, an Honors College student and an intern to Anthony. “She’s a very eye-opening person, and I feel like I’ve gained a lot of knowledge, not only about art, but also of the society.”
For Northup, the opportunity to collaborate on this mission with the College of Engineering was a no-brainer.
“This is a really exciting beginning to what I hope will be a long-term venture to put quality, curated art at the COE and other FIU campuses,” she said. “The success of our Aesthetics and Values class, which mounts an annual high-end art exhibition at the Frost, has demonstrated the enthusiasm of students from all majors to learn about artistic expression. This is another key step in educating well-rounded, well-informed young leaders.”
The Honors College and the College of Engineering and Computing hope to inspire innovation that benefits the world at large. For them, this collaboration is just the beginning.