Curious VaultCoral Collaboration 001

Do Brain Corals Dream of Algal Symbionts?

By Karla V Arguellophoto (1)

Though many may see art and science at odds, they are actually both means for human creativity and exploration. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science formerly the Miami Science Museum, is interested in developing this concept and has created the Curious Vault Collaborations, inviting artists to collaborate with scientists in order to discover ways to integrate art and science in a non-conventional manner.

The project comes at a suitable time for the museum as they will soon be relocating next to the Perez Art Museum in Downtown Miami. The idea behind the project is to put a local artist and scientist together with the intention of creating a tabletop display from their teamwork using at least one item from the museum’s permanent collection. The first of many collaborations, titled titled “Do brain corals dream of algal symbionts?” was between since Dr. Andrew Baker, Associate Professor of Marine Biology & Fisheries at the University of Miami and Miami based contemporary artist Sinisa Kukec. Dr Baker’s career has a special focus on corals and after combing through the many specimens in the Curious Vault he chose a massive brain coral for the artwork, then Kukec crafted a stunning infinity box to house the coral. Inside the box, the brain coral is raised up, framed and highlighted with custom made neon tubing. When the onlooker soaks in the piece they are treated to a near never-ending view of neon and brain coral, an effect hoping to simulate an actual coral reef under the waves.

 Photos Courtesy of Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science Blog

Last week,  the Miami Science Museum hosted a discussion panel with Dr. Baker, Kukec, writer Nathaniel Sandler and Kevin Arrow, Art & Collections Manager. The night started with libations complimentary of Finlandia Vodka, Desperados Beer and light bites in the museum lobby. Cocktails were cleverly themed for the night, featuring a Curious Coconut Crunch, Grapefruit Crush Collaborations and the Brain Coral to get guests ready for the discussion.

During the discussion, panelists Sandler and Arrow explained the impetus to create Curious Vault Collaborations. The museum has an extensive archive that Arrow wanted to uncover and activate by inviting scientists, artists and writers to collaborate and push limits in ways no one has thought or imagined. Dr. Baker and Kusek shared their backgrounds and explained the process of creating the actual piece. The materials used were brain coral, neon, acrylic two-way mirror, red oak, soundtrack and electronics. Dr. Baker’s voice and his childrens’ can be heard sharing facts about the coral, which I learned that although corals resemble and look like plants, they are animals with symbiotic associations to algae.

“Classic to the way an artist thinks is to question how an object is contextualized. In this place, what message is that object sending? So, under different circumstances the artist can place the object where it tells a new story.”

As Dr. Baker coyly put it, he never grew up and now he has a budget to do research and fieldwork in his area of interest- the ecology and conservation of coral reefs, with a focus on the impacts of climate change on these ecosystems. Now with the help of the Miami Science Museum and Kusek, he is able to share his work and display it in a manner that will give Museum attendees a new perspective.

If you are interested in enjoying the mystery at the intersection between art and science, the exhibit is currently on display at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.