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. In the last post I explained my plans to make a cardboard bird mask—this project is still in process. In the meantime I’m getting to know my fellow residents.
Friday, July 3: Today is my fourth day at Djerassi. Morning walks with fellow residents are surfacing as a supremely enriching activity: we develop relationships, explore the property, exercise and absorb the dawn energy as fuel for the day. Yesterday, I had a walk with Deborah Forster, the primatologist and cognitive scientist. She explained differences in social behaviors among baboons versus chimpanzees and their strategies for adapting to new groups. As male baboons mature they leave their birth group and join other groups while in chimpanzees it is the females that move to a new group. In this residency we are all members of a new group. We speculate about how our artificial tribe here at Djerassi will cohere. Each resident is used to being a member of multiple tribes due to cross-disciplinary affinities. This could promote cohesion because each of us is accustomed to adapting within multiple existing group structures. On the other hand we are all likely to resist group cohesion because we my have found in-group mentalities to be limiting. This was our conversation yesterday, but today we begin to test how group dynamics actually develop. In the morning Deborah and I take an early, extended walk with three more of our fellow residents: Luca Forcucci, Tami Spector and Christine Lee. Each is accomplished and unique: Christine has made impressive sculptural works from waste materials like condemned fire hoses and discarded construction shims. She also helped to develop a new type of naturally bonded board (think environmentally friendly particle board) in collaboration with scientist, John F Hunt of the USDA.
Luca has traveled the world for dozens of years doing sonic, visual, conceptual and otherwise inscrutably interesting art through the support of various grants and residencies. Before living as a full-time creative he worked as an an architect and curated for a music venue.
© XEPO WS
Tami Spector is a tenured chemistry professor at the University of San Francisco. She writes and lectures about the aesthetics of chemistry.
We follow a paved road up and down (mostly up) several hills until we reach a gated off trail. We pass the gate and descend into the woods wondering what awaits us along this somewhat unkempt path. We are new to this wilderness—watching for the poison oak and ticks we were warned of.
We are not only exploring the forested paths, but each other’s minds and perspectives. I can feel my brain stretching to make sense of unfamiliar topics and references. Tami, Christine and Luca discuss many artist of which I have not heard—I am fascinated to hear about them though. Christine tells me of a book I ought to read. I think to take a note but then again there are so many new things there is no time to note them all. But we are all feeling a bit like this—navigating a forest of unfamiliar but potentially fascinating references. Tami resolves to compile a list so that she can home in on at least one film, book, and artist recommendation from each resident.
Suddenly, our attention becomes focused on a couple of animals on the path. They are yellow, mushy slimy amorphous animals—banana slugs! They are performing some sort of ritual (mating?). They take turns stroking each other’s backs in a painstakingly slow dance. Deborah—the scholar of animal behavior—remarks at their “turn-taking” and that it is such a universal and evolutionarily ancient behavior.
We are all rapped for several minutes watching them. But then we refocus our attention on finding the famous “Staccioli Grove”—where Mauro Staccioli installed tremendous, geometric, concrete objects that balance impossibly among the tall trees.
Deborah’s attention is not diverted though. She remains rapt. She tells the rest of us to go on ahead. She sits down on the forest floor and continues to film the banana slugs.
The rest of us go on searching for the sculptural installations but for some reason we cannot find them. The maps we were given are not so clear. We leave Deborah far behind and continue to walk the woods until we find an exit.
Visit the Scientific Delerium Madness 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 and banana slugs at the Djerassi residency.