B&B Collaboratory #3

This is a guest post from Lisa Blackburn and Mark Boyd, who are art-science residents at AS IF Center through April.  (For more info on their residency, see our January 23 post, “Capturing Botanical Noise.”

The return of inclement weather has forced us back into our shops, where we continue to work on machines and devices to use on the site.  This brief interruption gives us time to do some testing, refining and troubleshooting of the natural/human interfaces, which will allow for smoother field work. It also provides us the time and space to clarify our goals and develop a logical plan of action.  We’re eager to get outside- there are already subtle indications of spring activity at lower elevations.

B&B Collaboratory #2

This is a guest post from Lisa Blackburn and Mark Boyd, who are art-science residents at AS IF Center through April.  (For more info on their residency, see our January 23 post, “Capturing Botanical Noise.”

Tree canopy in black and white. Photo by Lisa Blackburn

Unseasonably warm weather last week motivated us to spend time wandering through the woods. It gave us a chance to shift gears, observe, reflect and absorb the environment, and allowed our senses to relax and open up.  The temporary change of state resulted in  deeper consideration of the possibilities available for exploring the nuances of this place. We’ll continue wandering and tuning in over the next few weeks and identify a few spots for detailed focusing of our attention. For now, here’s a sampling of sound we collected that was triggered by a small tree on the AS.IF property.

Sound clip from B&B Collaboratory

B&B Collaboratory #1

This is a guest post from AS IF residents Lisa Blackburn and Mark Boyd.  (For more info on their residency, see our January 23 post, “Capturing Botanical Noise.”

Hi.  We’re Lisa and Mark.  Collectively we are the B&B Collaboratory.  We are not scientists, musicians, or academics.  Lisa is an intermedia artist, and we’re not quite sure what Mark is.  For now we’ll just say he’s a mechatronics poet.

We ARE both curious explorers of the bits of the world that are local to us.  We’re interested in the basic workings of natural phenomena. We believe there’s a lot more going on beyond the usual sensory surface of our experience of a place.  All natural things have physical energy in motion. We are looking for ways to make that energy more easily noticed and bring that information into the realm of our routine sensory perception.

We have a few ideas of how to do that, and how to share the results. We’re excited about finalizing the development of them and field testing at AS IF. If you’re around AS IF Center / High Cove and you see us working over the next few months, stop by and see what we’re up to!

Capturing botanical noise

AS IF residents will mic the plants. But not like this.

The Appalachian spring is characterized by ephemeral wildflowers, awakening of myriad little insects, and tree buds exploding in slow motion. Aaron Copeland wrote a beautiful symphonic piece to capture its charms. But what if the plants themselves make their own kind of music? How would we hear it? For the next four months, AS IF Residents Lisa Blackburn and Mark Boyd will be working on a project to explore just that.

As spring arrives and plant activity increases, Lisa and Mark will be using a variety of sensors to access imperceptible and barely-perceptible activity of natural elements including plants, insects, and weather. They will use the sensors and additional custom-built mechanical instruments to activate sound, light, and drawings derived from these inputs, and are also developing ideas for an on-site installation at AS IF Center. 

Their work will involve placing a small sticky pad (EEG monitor) to trees and other plants, for collecting minute electrical signals which they may convert to sound or visual information. They may also place small contact microphones on trees and other plants to capture sound information.

Can’t wait to hear what the plants have to say? Watch this site for stories and images (and maybe even sounds) as we follow the progress of this intriguing project.

Want to come for an art-science residency at AS IF Center? Application deadline for spring is February 15. Read more here.

AS IF resident artist Joe Bigley will explore effects of small organisms on big ecosystems

Curious about what’s going on at Art + Science In the Field? Please join us Saturday, May 19 at 4pm for a presentation by resident Joe Bigley followed by an Open House at AS IF Center studios. The presentation will be held at High Cove Firefly Lodge; after the talk, join us at AS IF Center’s Yellow House garage and studio facilities, where we will serve light eats. BYOB. A mere two dollars per person will help us cover the rental fee for use of the Lodge.

Joe Bigley is an assistant professor of art and sculpture at Spelman College in Atlanta. He received an MFA from Alfred University and has taught at the university level and lived abroad. His creative practice is typically a form of social commentary. He works in various sculpture processes, site specific installation, painting, collage, kinetic works, performance, and digital video.

Conglomeration #8, wood, copper, brass, stone, gut. 16” x 7” x 5”

At AS IF Center, Joe will focus on two different projects. First, he will continue progress on a 100-work series of collages that incorporate various scientific principles into the text and imagery. Second, he will work on a project in response to present invasive pest species that affect our local forests. He will conduct research on forest ecology, including collaboration with the US Forest Service. The end result of this project will include large scale semi-permanent sculptures installed at High Cove. The installations will highlight the widespread impact of unseen forces on expansive ecosystems, focusing on small organisms such as the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle, Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, or Phytophthora ramorum spores which cause Sudden Oak Death.

Product placement (2017), Site-specific Kinetic Installation. Trees (21), Motion Sensor, Motors, Microcontroller, Mixed. 16′ x 18′ x 60′ (Eyedrum Gallery. Atlanta, GA)

To get to AS IF Center, follow the directions to the Firefly Lodge. If Lodge parking is full, go back onto Rebels Creek, take a right, then in just a few meters take the first right at Castanea Street (at the black studio under construction). Park at the pullout areas off Castanea Street, near the black studio and community garden on the left, or near the barn on the right, then walk past the pond and the Lodge driveway. For questions, please contact us.

Very, very cool: A writer shares insight from the Arctic Circle Summer Solstice program

On Sunday, March 17, AS IF Center writer in residence Cynthia Reeves generously shared her time, expertise, and passion for writing with the Toe River Arts community, by way of two events – a workshop in using science research in writing fiction, and a talk about her experience in the Arctic Circle Summer Solstice Expedition.

For the three-hour workshop called Making the Leap from Fact to Fiction, Cynthia prepared readings, gave writing assignments, and offered expert writing guidance to nine workshop attendees, three of whom traveled from Asheville in order to participate. Cynthia challenged workshop participants to think about character development and point of view while weaving science facts into the writing.


Following the workshop, in a talk entitled Of Ice Floes, Whale Bones, and Abandoned Mines: Close Encounters from the Arctic Circle Summer Solstice Expedition,  Cynthia regaled us with tales of her adventures to the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic. She took us to abandoned coal mines taken over by noisy flocks of Kittiwakes, shared grief for a beach piled with remnant whale bones from the archipelago’s heyday as a whaling center,  and concluded with this arrestingly beautiful short video of a calving glacier, filmed by fellow resident artist/ shipmate Adam Laity. 

As we shook off the winter chill and yearned for spring, we were reminded of melting glaciers and other meteorological dramas unfolding on remote parts of our planet. Thank you, Cynthia, for sharing your writing insight and Arctic adventures with our community.

These two events were brought the Toe River Arts community through a partnership with AS IF Center and Toe River Arts Center. We are grateful to TRAC for offering their space and helping us host these two events.  




In My Backyard


An art-science talk by Kristen Orr and Kate Fleming

This event is co-sponsored by AS IF Center and Toe River Arts and is free of charge.

Artists Kristen Orr and Kate Fleming will be in residence at AS IF Center for two weeks this spring. They will give an art-science talk titled “In My Backyard” at the Arts Resource Center on May 5 from 11am-12pm.

During their residency, Kristen and Kate will be creating a series of prints based on an artistic and scientific research trip they took across North Carolina in May 2017. The artists spent a week visiting seven nature preserves, each within a distinct ecoregion of the state—Roan Mountain, Linville Gorge, Uwharrie National Forest, Weymouth Woods, Green Swamp, Black River, and Carolina Beach State Park. They documented the species, colors, textures, sounds, and smells of each location using a variety of artistic and scientific methods. Using the data they collected on their trip, they are collaborating to create imagery that is representative of each location.

At the talk on May 5 at the ARC, the artists will share stories from their epic road trip across the state and describe how they used artistic and scientific methods to capture the essence of an ecosystem. Their collected visual data, including notes, sketches, paintings, color swatches, pressed plants, soil samples, and field recording will also be on display.






Kristen and Kate are working on their project with scientific guidance from Dr. Peter Weigl, an ecologist at Wake Forest University and from The Nature Conservancy of North Carolina.

Kristen is a multimedia artist and designer from Winston-Salem, NC. She currently works as an exhibit designer for the Museum of Science, Boston and holds a BFA in Industrial Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. Kate is a painter and printmaker based in Arlington, Virginia. She works as an exhibit specialist at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC and graduated from the College of William and Mary. 

For more information about the May 5 talk, visit the Upcoming Events page.

Weaving Research into Creative Writing: Two Events

Writer Cynthia Reeves is the 2018 “Art of the Climate” resident AS IF Center. Her current writing project is a trilogy of linked novellas entitled The Comfort of Water. All three are set on the Svalbard archipelago, where in June 2017 she shared the Arctic Circle Summer Solstice expedition with 31 other artists. Cynthia is pleased to offer two events, co-sponsored by AS IF Center and Toe River Arts — a workshop on using science in creative writing, and a talk about her adventures in the Arctic and how they have inspired her writing.

Both the workshop and the talk will take place on Saturday, March 17 [NOTE NEW DATE] at the Arts Resource Center at Toe River Arts, 269 Oak Avenue, Spruce Pine, upstairs. Events are free of charge, but participants will need to RSVP to reserve a spot, and will be encouraged (but not required) to make a small donation to AS IF Center and Toe River Arts.

The author writes: “That one can ‘live’ on an ice floe—at least for the time the floe remains intact—is fascinating to me. During our trip, we anchored to an ice floe so that I was able to experience what that would be like, the dangers inherent in it, the way it moves without you noticing.”

WORKSHOP: Making the Leap from Fact to Fiction
Saturday, March 17 10:00am-2:30pm with a break for lunch (try Fox & the Fig or DTs Blue Ridge Java). This workshop will focus on finding inspiration for creative writing in “fact” and incorporating research into fiction. We will address questions such as: How do you write authentically about subjects with which you might be only tangentially familiar? Why do certain subjects–climate change and historical events, for example–intrigue you? How can that fascination be put to use in your writing?

Preparation for the workshop will include completing several reading assignments totalling approximately eight hours. The workshop will consist of an informal lecture as well as a writing exercise that will be completed in class and shared with other participants. Due to time constraints, there will not be an opportunity for Cynthia to read the work of participants beforehand.

Minimum 8 participants / Maximum 12
Workshop registration closes March 10

To apply, write a brief (250-300 word) essay about why you are interested in the workshop, and email to us by March 10.

TALK: Of Ice Floes, Whale Bones, and Abandoned Mines: Close Encounters from the Arctic Circle Summer Solstice Expedition
Saturday, March 17, 4:00pm-5:00pm

This talk will reflect the ways in which travel and research inspire Cynthia’s work. She will share photos and personal experiences from her Arctic Circle residency aboard the schooner Antigua, and will read from her work-in-progress inspired by encounters from that residency. One impetus from her trip that shaped her project were serendipitous comments from her fellow artist-shipmates as they wound down their adventure. They would say: This is our “last landing,” our “last beach,” and “our last glacier.” The idea of there being a “last glacier” jogged something in her mind—tying the idea of climate change and its potential impacts directly to her work. The stunning and otherworldly beauty of the Arctic landscape was also a source of inspiration, especially contemplating what would be lost if that landscape continues to be compromised.

RSVP by email to save a spot.

AS IF Center’s first resident: Cynthia Reeves

The Art of the Climate resident has been chosen, and is also AS IF Center’s first official resident. Through a competitive process, we selected Cynthia Reeves, a writer whose work has appeared in a wide array of journals and anthologies. She has won numerous honors, including Miami University Press’s Novella Prize (2007) for Badlands; several Pushcart Prize nominations; and prizes in Columbia’s Fiction Contest, the 2006 and 2008 Quarter After Eight Short Prose Contests, New Millennium’s Short Short Fiction Contest, and Potomac Review’s Fiction Contest. She has also been awarded residencies to Vermont Studio Center and the 2017 Arctic Circle Summer Solstice Expedition to Svalbard.

Cynthia Reeves at Svalbard. Photo by Carleen Sheehan.

Cynthia’s work most often arises in the intersection between history and science. She seeks to portray how the political and the external impinge upon the personal. Often that fresh angle comes through locating the work in the lives of ordinary people whose stories have been lost or ignored, with the goal of enlarging our engagement with wider, unfamiliar worlds. A graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA program, Cynthia has taught in the creative writing programs at Rosemont College and Bryn Mawr College.


What will Cynthia be doing at AS IF Center?
Cynthia’s current writing project is a trilogy of linked novellas entitled The Comfort of Water. All three are set on the Svalbard archipelago, where in June 2017 she shared the Arctic Circle Summer Solstice expedition with 31 other artists. The first novella, The Last Whaler, concerns a Norwegian couple—a beluga whaler and his botanist wife—stranded on Spitsbergen during the winter of 1935-36. Among other themes, it explores the effect of humans on the environment and the protagonist’s changing attitudes toward harvesting whales. The second, The Last Glacier, is a fairy tale set in a parallel contemporary world told from the point of view of the glacier. Its intention is to describe a world that could be lost without significant intervention to slow down the loss of ice at the poles. The third, The Last Eden, a post-apocalyptic novella set in the near future, centers on two characters—a female botanist and a hominin creature—confronted with a cataclysmic event: the sudden massive calving of an ice shelf that isolates them in an Arctic cave. Each has knowledge of the past but no way to access or employ that knowledge. What would become of their desire to reclaim a world already gone? What is the potential for a relationship, for love, to redefine the possible even in the most extreme conditions?


This writing project poses two major challenges: to create three very different, authentic worlds, and to portray the geo-political and scientific context in which each story is set. During the residency, Cynthia will continue writing the novellas while also collaborating with scientists at NCEI—especially botanists and glaciologists—to more fully understand the implications of climate change on plants and ice and to supplement her years of Arctic research.


We look forward to Cynthia’s visit.

Sara Rich visit to AS IF Center – all about dendroprovenancing

Last weekend AS IF Center hosted Dr. Sara Rich, Lecturer in Art History at Appalachian State University. Sara is a certified diver, a scholar of Arabic and Hebrew, versed in the science of dendrology, and author of Cedar Forests, Cedar Ships: Allure, Lore, and Metaphor in the Mediterranean Near East. Her work involves dendroprovenancing – using dendrochronology to date the wood in shipwrecks. Each year, the earth’s climate leaves a signature of width in tree rings – the overall pattern of thinner and thicker rings can be read like a bar code that dates the tree from which the wood was cut.

AS IF Center breakfast at the Yellow House

Sara came to AS IF to work on a fiction project. We shared a breakfast with Olga Ronay, AS IF Advisory Board member and one of the founding partners of High Cove (where AS IF Center is located), John Moore, woodcarver and former professor of Classics at Brown University and New College, and Byrne Tinney, former UNC faculty member in Spanish, meteorology expert, and longtime resident of the area. Several other High Cove community members had a chance to meet with Sara as well. We shared pizza, hiked, enjoyed a fire at the Lodge, added “dendroprovenancing” to our vocabulary, and talked about ancient history, Arabic and Hebrew language, world travels, and alternative narrative forms for telling the stories of science.

At Sara’s visit, we were envisioning a way to screen off the Yellow House residents’ quarters and studio from the rest of the house, to create more privacy for residents to work. We were inspired with the idea of making a folding privacy screen, collaged with drawings, writings, collections and other works from AS IF visitors. Sara left us with the first element for this project, seen below: a study for a painting of a the multibeam echosounder imaging of the wrecked 16th c. galleon in the Eo Estuary in Ribadeo, Galicia, Spain. Thanks for your visit, Sara – we hope you’ll join us again!