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July 24, 2017

To our friends in Both Biospheres!| Lee Pivnik, BFA Sculpture ’18

by leepivnik

Biosphere 2 (On my first day!)

I’m finally getting adjusted enough here to blog about it! Hello, all! For July and August I’m excited to be out in Arizona, working at Biosphere 2. B2 was built in the 1980s to test the possibility of using large enclosed environments to propel people further into space, using the natural world as a life boat. For 2 years, from 1991-1993, 8 scientists lived inside the totally closed system, growing their own food, making sure the world ran right, and becoming national media sensations. After that experiment, and an additional one, the facility actually fell into disrepair for a number of years. For the past decade, the University of Arizona has been running it, not as a closed system anymore but as an active research facility for Earth Science and education. The whole thing feels similar to a trip to a botanical garden, with an extra layer of utopian dreams and Buckminster Fuller designs.

Some immediate highlights include discovering the old Bat Cave, where 5 bats were supposed to live in the Desert Biome, helping 6th Grader’s catch plankton from the Ocean Biome in boats, and encountering my first rattlesnake last Thursday! I didn’t get bit, and apparently, the larger ones can’t kill you as easily anyway so I had nothing to worry about!


One of the lungs, regulating the air pressure of the facility when it was a closed system.

I essentially have three jobs here, and I’ve been referring to myself as the Guinea-Pig-Artist-In-Residence.

The first is exactly that, to do as an artist does in a new space, take in the sights, reflect on it all, produce some work, and show it off. That’s been an interesting endeavor so far as I’m without any usual facilities for doing that. I found a rusty hammer in the Rainforest Biome the other day and it has become a good friend for building sculptures! I’ve been doing a lot with my hands, making some smaller works from beeswax and thorns. I also signed up for a membership at a local ceramics co-op studio in Tucson, where I’m learning some intro things and finding time to produce some more refined pieces! Everything is moving so quickly that I’m feeling like the work I make is going to be a collection of sketches and exercises, and it’s a refreshing way to work through ideas.


My FAVORITE window! looks into a pond under a waterfall in the Rainforest Biome

My second job is to interact with all of the other people around Biosphere. These groups are essentially the daily visitors, misc visiting groups, middle and high school programs (each a week long), and the researchers here for the summer. My interactions so far have included shadowing a group of 6th graders that were visiting from the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, as they took soil and water samples around the facility, screening a video work to a different group of students that were here for a weeklong summer program, and leading a workshop on Cyanotypes to a group from the Phoenix Zoo.

My Final task is to record all of this and find a way to make it more regular at B2. The funding for an annual residency just isn’t here yet, and my experience would not be possible without the Maharam. But my coworkers at Biosphere and I agree that B2 needs a regular, annual artist-engagement initiative, and that has become the biggest challenge so far. Taking a small amount of money, and finding a way to bring in fantastic artists every year that will grow from the experience, and engage with B2’s visitors in new, exciting ways.


Stop Bath for the Cyanotypes

Today was definetly a successful one though. A group of Masters Students I just mentioned was visiting from the Phoenix Zoo and today I talked with them about how Art can be used as a powerful tool in Conservation Ecology. This started with a demo on how to make Cyanotypes in the style of Anna Atkins, a British botanist who became the first female photographer. Atkins is incredible because she was producing some of the first cyanotypes ever, and they still are the best. We all had a hard time improving on what she did 150+ years ago. The workshop I gave revolved around pollinators and how they navigate using UV light. We made Cyanotypes because the process is dependent on UV light activating a chemical reaction that turns the material blue. I also showed some of the work I’m doing now with photochromic beeswax, which I’m engineering here in my little makeshift office-lab-studio. (They actually gave me an office here, and one closer to my house at UofA. TWO OFFICES! I feel like an executive.)


The workshop was exciting and the conversation we had around conservation was one I don’t get to find at RISD easily. I brought up some artists I’m looking at for leading successful projects, including John Gerrard, Agnes Denes, Coral Morphologic, and Mel Chin, and showed my previous work as well.


Cyanotype composition by one of the people in my workshop today. Pollinator LOVE!

For the next week or two I’m focusing more on the body of work I’m producing because ideally, I have it installed for a show here ASAP, and can talk about it while I’m here, and take it down and home with me when I leave. Then later in August I’ll finish putting together plans for the future of artist-engagement here at Biosphere 2. It’s a lot more work than I expected but I couldn’t imagine being happier doing anything else!

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