Release Date: August 24,2018

“Synapse” series connects art and science at The University of Akron

Colors and chemicals flying in studios and laboratories, the artist and scientist seek to stretch the limits of human ingenuity.

Matthew Kolodziej, painter and professor of art at The University of Akron (UA), hopes to do the same with his Synapse Art and Science Series, a series of lectures, workshops, exhibitions and residencies now in its tenth year – hosted by UA and local partners such as the Akron Art Museum – focused on the intersection of art and science.

Kolodziej is quick to dismiss the objection that art and science are unrelated or opposed. These so-called opposites, he said, actually attract, generating a “spark” of innovation – an exchange of information not unlike that which occurs at the trillions of synapses in the human brain, where electricity and chemicals leap from neuron to neuron.

Indeed, Kolodziej and his colleagues in the areas of design, art, engineering, polymers and biology are eager to demolish the partition, erected in the popular mind, separating the “left-brained” scientist from the “right-brained” artist.

Both hemispheres of the brain are put to work, for example, by artists such as Eric Gjerde, a “paper artist” whose complex, elaborately folded structures – including his “Dragon Helix,” made from a single, 137-foot-long sheet of paper, with an estimated 19,000 folds – are geometrical marvels, demonstrating the mathematical precision that underlies the beauty of sculpture. Gjerde will speak at a Synapse event at the Akron Art Museum on Sept. 13

“The ability to think abstractly, to be able to think in different scales and understand the connection between materials and ideas – that’s something that artists and scientists both do very well,” Kolodziej said.

Gjerde also has developed a method of growing “living” paper from bacteria. His translucent and fibrous “bio-paper” is just one example of the broader convergence of nature, art and science that so intrigues Kolodziej.

“We can learn from origami – or from looking at things like how insects unfold their wings – how to take something flat and fold it into a small unit, which has multiple applications,” Kolodziej said. “Organizations like NASA are interested in this. How can you take equipment – like solar panels or life support systems – and fold it up for travel, and then unfold it on Mars?”

The convergence of art and science is also explored by Peter Galison, an acclaimed author, film director and professor of the history of science and physics at Harvard University, who will speak at the museum on Oct. 11. Through documentaries ranging in subject from hydrogen bombs to black holes, and through books such as “Picturing Science, Producing Art” and courses such as “Filming Science,” Galison demonstrates the permeability of the art-science divide. There will be a screening of his film “Containment” (2015), produced with Robb Moss, on Friday, September 28 at 6:00 p.m. in the Myers School of Art Auditorium on campus. The film talks about the need to guard radioactive materials for the 10,000 year future.

“The idea of Synapse is that it’s meant to go out into the community, to showcase innovation and spark educational, economic and cultural growth,” said Kolodziej, whose own paintings – which are collages of artifacts and structures found in abandoned urban sites – can be seen at the “Frameworks” exhibition at the Akron Art Museum until Sept. 9. 

Kolodizje has sponsored more than 40 artists and designers through Synapse (which is supported by the Knight, Callahan and GAR foundations) since its founding in 2007. For information about these guests, and complete details about upcoming guests, visit synapseartscience.com.