Saturday, September 15, 2007

Interview with Thomas Robey, Participant in the "Inquiry as Collection" Show

Interviewer Question: So I understand the 3 pieces of work you submitted to the: “Inquiry as Collection: Wundercabinets, Collage, Assemblage” show was inspired by an assignment from teacher David Francis of the Pratt Fine Arts Center? What were the rules or instructions for creating your pieces?

Thomas Robey: The course at the Pratt Fine Arts Center was not so much centered on a curriculum with assignments; it was an intense workshop in which each artist could feed off the energy and perspective of the other participants. The three consecutive days offered a context for me to explore an artistic medium that I related to the historical phenomena of Wundercabinets. David Francis facilitated my understanding of the current approach to cabinet assemblage, and how I could integrate some of my other interests into my pieces.

Interviewer Question: Your displays had a magnifying glass and also a list of descriptions—why did you include them in your submission?

Thomas Robey: My pieces rely on assembling a large number of small items. Their arrangement is meaningful to me, but could take on other interpretations for other people. My hope, especially for the assemblage of rodent parts (“Gratiaedonatus oriens”) is that the viewer is first curious about all of the items; the magnifying glass permits close examination. I wanted to provide the interested viewer with information that could help them move their inquiry to another level. Instead of labeling that piece, I opted to make a key.

I tried to facilitate interaction with the other pieces as well. In 8005 Sand Point Way NE, each glass microscope slide can be removed for closer inspection. They are each numbered so that they can be easily restored to fit within the scala naturae hierarchy. My third piece “Seattle Colors” is interactive because the individual berries have the possibility of rotting or degrading over time. The artist/curator must restore the berries to fit with the rainbow color scheme as different source berries are available with the season.

Interviewer Question: Since your task was partly to create an assemblage, aside from collecting things, how does your project reflect your personality? What is different about your project compared to those from other students?

Thomas Robey: I am a scientist. Not only that, but my research uses mouse models of heart disease to study heart attacks. As such, I am very familiar with rodent anatomy. Dissecting owl pellets for oriensoffered an opportunity to explore a different way of working with mice. My familiarity with rodents also offers the foundations of a bridge I hoped to build to connect science with a non-scientist observer.

Interviewer Question: Does your art have a dominant message behind it at all? Are you trying to say something about the world or yourself?

Thomas Robey: My intent in creating these pieces was to try and raise awareness of nature in the context of an urban environment. Whether it is rodents, local berries or items found in the vicinity of a given address, there is an element of wonder that urban-dwellers may experience when presented with an assemblage of strange-looking items. The irony is that these items are just under our noses. Creating these wonder cabinets is a way for me to connect with my context.

Interviewer Question: Have you worked in this format before? If so/not, what do you see as its strengths or weaknesses?

Thomas Robey: I have curated collections of rocks, fossils and found natural items since I was a boy. This is the first time I have worked with assemblage or attempted to present the items in a way that also offered a message.

Interviewer Question: Since you are not a full time artist, how did you feel about participating in the show?

Thomas Robey: I appreciate that David Francis offered the opportunity to participate in this group show. Contributing to Inquiry as Collection is an honor for me and has introduced me a little bit to how art shows are planned and presented. More importantly, presenting at COCA has also introduced me to a new community – one that might offer an avenue to better connect art and science.

Interviewer Question: What sorts of comments did you get about your entries?

Thomas Robey: I was pleased to see that folks were using the magnifying glass to inspect the items and the identification keys.

Interviewer Question: Are you going to continue creating art? If so, in what genre?

Thomas Robey: I really like assemblage and the concept of the wonder cabinet. I have a lot of ideas about how my training as a scientist can inform novel expressions of creativity. My schooling will require me to move quite a bit in the coming year, and I plan to make an address themed cabinet for each location where I live: Anacortes, Spokane and Fairbanks.

As an aside, I want science outreach to be an important part of my career. I think that the intersection of science and art can be a rewarding area in which to explore new ways to highlight science’s role in society.

Thomas Robey pursues many approaches to elevate awareness of science in society. He writes about these ideas at his blog, Hope for Pandora.

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