Edge of Life Project Overview

The arts and sciences are rooted together in a long, interdependent tradition. Art delves into humanity’s internal questions about our understanding of our place within nature. Science delves into the external mechanics of nature in search of similar knowledge and understanding of these problems. Art imaginatively makes visible intangible ideas by placing abstract concepts into concrete form. Forest pathology makes evident tree diseases through identifying signs and symptoms of forest pathogens. Both art and science develop understanding through creativity, experimentation, trial and error, and the discovery and testing of hypothesis. Both attempt to reveal unseen aspects of the world, reflecting on the macro through understanding the micro. The Edge of Life forest pathology art exhibition will explore these connections between art and science through both a collaborative art and science exhibition, including 32 artists, and a 100 page, full-color book.

Edge of Life will bridge the fields of forestry and art. Forest pathology is an important aspect of forestry, especially now with the influx of invasive species, activity in the ecotones, and spread of pathogens. Artists naturally gravitate to contemporary concerns and socially conscious issues. Each artist will be assigned a forest pathology specimen to use as the impetus for creation. Participating artists will include 22 artists in Stephen F. Austin State University’s School of Art and 13 professional artists in the field whose work deals with ecological issues. The project will highlight the talent housed within the School of Art. Our diverse and active faculty showcases the diversity of contemporary art practices and concerns. Media will range from pin-hole photography, hand-felted wool sculpture, wood cut printmaking, to digital media mapping.

This exhibition will provide the catalyst for discussion over pathogens and invasive species affecting the health of our forests, as well as how artists communicate concerns about contemporary ecological issues, translating their ideas through their artistic media. Pathogens and invasive species have an inherent allure that calls for attention. The forms can be beautiful and repulsive, elegant in simplicity and complex. Awareness of pathogens leads to understanding their mechanics, which leads to cognizance on how our actions affect global, natural health. Humanity has planted non-native trees that are harbingers of disease to the native woods. These diseases mutate and spread. Forest pathologists study the unseen microscopic diseases through the visible symptoms – such as shelf fungi, known as conks – learning to read the health of a forest ecosystem through the health of individual trees. The disease triangle shows the intrinsically linked co-dependency of Host, Pathogen, and Environment. Pathogens can transfer between and depend on host/s for survival and reproduction. Environment can enable rapid spread of pathogens. Transference of pathogens is fertile ground for lessons of human behavior through artistically illuminated metaphor.

Forest pathology, as a field of study, has declined across the United States. Universities often house forest pathology in the departments of biology or agriculture as a sub-category. As the educational programs wither so will the number of minds that store the knowledge needed to protect the health of the forests. Despite its decline, this field is still pertinent to today’s ecosystems.

The project will culminate in both a traveling exhibition, pairing specimen and artwork, and a book. This book will contain full-color reproductions of the artwork in the exhibition, including an artist statement and short biography of each artist, as well as full-color images of the specimens and writings from forest pathologists explaining each pathogen and its significance to their ecosystem.

Edge of Life will provide the impetus for conversations over pathogens affecting the health of our forests.

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