When art meets science, the dialogue between the two disciplines can be unpredictable, unconventional, and inspiring – certainly worthy of conversation, whether you’re an art lover or a STEM team.
“Object Permanence,” a collaboration between Seattle ceramic artists Timea Tihanyi and Sylwia Tur, is a new site-specific installation of porcelain sculptures and video works contained within a unique scaffolding of wooden boxes at the Bellevue Arts Museum. The exhibit explores the confluence of science, memory, and the material world that the two women brought with them when they immigrated to the United States. Tihanyi is a Hungarian doctor specializing in neuropsychology, Tur is a Polish linguist who focuses on artificial intelligence systems.
Tihanyi and Tur’s first-ever artistic collaboration was curated by Bellevue Arts Museum’s Associate Curator, Lane Eagles. He explores the tension between permanence and impermanence; absence and presence; and personal and professional identities through the prism of the psychological concept of object permanence – that is, an object continues to exist even though it can no longer be detected.
For Tihanyi – who grew up in a working class family in Budapest and is now the founder and director of a technoceramics studio as well as a professor in the interdisciplinary visual arts program at the University of Washington – her conception of the permanence of the subject matter was born out of her childhood sparseness and the spirit of DIY encouraged by life within an authoritarian political system. For her, ceramics is both art and blue-collar work, which she has married to science through the use of 3D printing technology, specialized scanners and coding.
His work is both abstract and autobiographical, drawing inspiration from the relics of Hungarian culture, including folklore, embroidery and textiles, theater and architecture and the interior design of Eastern Bloc apartments. The result is a collection of small sculptures that highlight the essence of the material: the momentary shape of a fabric that inflates, the hands of actors frozen in full gesture, a piece of porcelain that breaks. It’s nostalgia made tangible, memories molded into solid shapes.
For Tur, using clay to capture and materialize the fleeting experience of communication is both an artistic outlet and an intellectual challenge. As a linguist, she was inspired by the idea of presenting language in a new and unexpected way: not as an audio, literary or non-verbal human-to-human exchange, but through objects. To this end, she fused art with the concepts of constructed language to create a three-dimensional alphabet system. The letter “A” is represented by a pyramid, the letter “B” by a bowl, etc. Within the confines of the crates, Tur utters phrases that have personal meaning to her, such as “Space is information”, “Love what is”, and “Time is the teacher”. The sculptural letters are arranged in a non-linear fashion – nested within each other, scattered across the floor of crates, clinging to the sides like barnacles – allowing them to interact in idiosyncratic ways to create meaning that the patient observer can translate. .
Crates containing Tihanyi and Tur’s work are staged to encourage interaction. Stacked on top of each other, they meander through the gallery space seemingly at random, like a brutalist building that has gained in sensibility. The viewer must squat or stand on tiptoe to experience each diorama-like vignette. Like the scientific disciplines that shaped the careers of Tihanyi and Tur, the exhibition encourages a spirit of inquiry and discovery. And as any artist will tell you, that’s where the inspiration comes from.
“Object Permanence” is on display at the Bellevue Arts Museum until May 29. More information is available at bellevuearts.org.