Djerassi is a residency program in Woodside California that hosts artists in groups of twelve for one month sessions. The program takes place on a several hundred acre property that rests peacefully in the Santa Cruz mountains. Nearby, brainy technophiles populate Palo Alto, the home of Standford University and startuplandia. This month’s session, playfully titled Scientific Delirium Madness, is special. A selection committee has chosen a group of art/science integrators to share this experience. They are hoping we find interesting ways to collaborate and that our creativity will flourish at this remote retreat. I plan to keep a strict daily schedule: early rising, 4 hours of science, 4 hours of making things. Each day I look for ways to create something meaningful. I hope my output will do justice to this opportunity.
Wednesday, July 1: Last night—my first at Djerassi—I slept hard. I have commenced recovering from my dissertation defense and the frantic last-minute preparations for this trip. The first item on day two’s list is meditation. I attempted to plan big for this month. Ideas on what to work on while here had been filling my brain until they leaked out my ears. But I couldn’t really know what to do until I arrive.
The plan includes a tentative schedule:
6:00 AM—meditate; 6:30—walk; 8:00—shower, eat, prep for the day; 9:00—four hours of science; 1:00 PM—lunch; 2:00—four hours of creativity; 6:00—dinner; 7:00—free time, socializing, winding down, reading, writing, etc.; 10:00—bed.
I don’t even know if this schedule will enmesh well with the natural rhythm of things here. Today I do what I can. After the morning greets my meditating with acceptance, I try my walk.
A map will guide me into the art covered hills.
The morning light dances with the shadows. They interact rhythmically.
Sculpture installations emerge from nature and greet me as I walk. Brittany Powell has carved away moss from trees to create a pattern that still echoes loudly after two years. The periodic stripes of moss evoke the shape of a guiro—the Latin American percussion instrument.
On my walk the early light through the dewey trees creates a rhythm that enamors me. I’ve been studying rhythms of the thrush nightingale in my research. I record a video on my walk. I run my hand through the light and shadow, creating a one dimensional slice of luminosity through the complex patterns. It evokes sonic rhythms in my mind. This is some of my art for the day: light rhythms.
After my walk and after breakfast I get to work on my science—I extend a hand out from this gentle landscape to bustling New York City and converse with my mentor. I dive into revising our manuscript, readying it for publication. I accomplish quite a bit. I’m in the zone right away!—I am hoping to submit two papers before I leave Djerassi. Quickly my schedule faces a glitch though. The staff will stop my science time short. Soon this first full day fills up with orientations and getting to know the fellow residents. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll successfully institute my precious schedule.
In the meantime, I participate in the planned activities. The staff assure us that we’ll soon have time to get things done—we all reluctantly enjoy the hell out of a guided tour of the sculpture grounds.
The docent, Dennis, guides us through the hills and forests.
The sculptures intrigue and fascinate us. For example, James Chinneck has left mysterious plaques along the trails here—“State Certified Fact” plates. This plaque tells the tale of a rusty old truck found in a ravine:
Frank faithfully delivered fine sausages from his store at 974 Howared Street to the loggers in the mountains.
One of the loggers, Chuck Malone, had an issue with Frank: The sausage man was having a love affair with Malone’s oldest daughter, Mary-Anne.
On November 8, 1937 Chuck Malone fired 18 shots at Frank’s sausage van. Tragically for Malone, Frank was not driving the van that day; Mary-Anne was. Upon realizing that he had shot and killed his own daughter, Malone turned the gun on himself.
Frank never delivered sausages again.
I love Chinneck’s imaginative project and I reflect on how important stories are. They add meaning to chaos. I want to create things here that tell stories.
Later, representatives of Leonardo—the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology—meet with us. They are collaborating with Djerassi to host this special residency where artists and scientists reside together. We learn that there is an open house on the 19th—just over two weeks away: 250 outsiders will pay to enter the grounds and to find out about us and what we will have done. The meeting is fun—and we are reminded that we have the amazing gift of time with no obligation here. However their presentation to us highlighting the upcoming open house reinforces a mild pressure for us to produce something impressive to show for our time here…
Visit our blog, hosted by Leonardo, the journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology to find out more about our experiences with art and science collaboration at the Djerassi residency.