In art exhibition and symposium at Brown’s Granoff Center, the conversation turns to conservation

The Brown Arts Institute has partnered with Creature Conserve, a Rhode Island nonprofit, to host an exhibition and symposium focused on wildlife conservation and human-animal relationships.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —  A spring exhibition and symposium at Brown University will focus on how artists, scientists and activists can work together to advance wildlife conservation efforts.

The Brown Arts Institute exhibition, titled “Re-Examining Conservation: Questions at the Intersection of the Arts and Sciences,” is on view now through June 10 at the University’s Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. It features work by artists, writers and other creative professionals that takes a closer look at the complex relationships between humans and animals.

A free, public symposium of the same name, taking place from Thursday, April 21, to Saturday, April 23, will engage Brown scholars across multiple fields of study, leading wildlife specialists, community artists and more in a series of talks and workshops focused on how humans can protect and preserve wildlife amid catastrophic climate change and overdevelopment. 

“Animals cannot speak to us in ways that we are used to, but we have to find ways to listen to them, because their future is at stake,” said Thalia Field, faculty director of the Brown Arts Institute and a professor of literary arts. “Our world is inseparably intertwined with theirs; their livelihood ensures a fertile, complete and safe world for us. I don’t think there’s a more timely topic to be tackling.”

Field said the exhibition comes to College Hill courtesy of Creature Conserve, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit that brings artists and scientists together to study, celebrate and protect animals and their habitats. The exhibition is Creature Conserve’s biennial showcase, she said, and it features more than 20 works of art that invite people to examine how, where and why the world should seek to establish more balanced human-animal relationships. 

Heather McMordie, the exhibition’s curator and an adjunct lecturer in visual arts at Brown, said the art on view includes fabric and ceramic sculptures, paintings, photographs and mixed-media pieces made from found glass, plants and insects. Many come from Indigenous artists and incorporate those artists’ perspectives about land stewardship.

Among the pieces is “Solastalgia” by Sophy Tuttle, a three-dimensional wall of more than 100 boxes with animals inside, created as a memorial to the estimated 150 to 200 species that go extinct every day across the globe; “Pangolin Plush” by Adam Moreno, which uses fabrics that represent different Indigenous groups to form the shape of a ground pangolin; and “Basement Buds” by Eleanor Q. C. Olson, an oil painting that depicts a thriving ecosystem of insects living in the basement of a Northeastern American home.  

Tiny boxes with animals inside affixed to a wall
“Solastalgia” by Sophy Tuttle, a three-dimensional wall of more than 100 boxes with animals inside, was created as a memorial to the estimated 150 to 200 species that go extinct every day across the globe.

Field said the symposium will showcase the diverse scholarship of a group of faculty from every corner of the Brown campus whose work somehow addresses animals. According to Field, the group has convened regular meetings for years to hold book discussions, informal research presentations and more. 

“We come from a wild variety of departments — literature, science, history, sociology, philosophy, physics,” Field said. “At some point, we have all done work that looks at human-animal relationships in a way that centers the animal. Given the relevance with Creature Conserve’s exhibition, I thought, ‘This is a great opportunity to feature this group’s diverse, compelling work.’”

An April 22 conversation will bring together experts for a discussion on humans’ historical and current relationship with horses. Later that day, Bathsheba Demuth, an assistant professor of history and environment and society at Brown, will give a talk on how climate change and the Soviet Union’s rise and fall radically changed the lives of reindeer in Siberia’s Chukchi Peninsula. And on April 23, a discussion will feature writer, an illustrator and Creature Conserve Founder Dr. Lucy Spelman.

Field said she hopes exhibit visitors and symposium attendees will walk away from the experience understanding the value of cross-disciplinary conversations. When scientists, writers and artists work together, she said, their different approaches and insights can help untangle and solve complex problems. 

“Art can think through the toughest questions, because artists aren’t bound by rules or conventions or preconceptions,” Field said. “Whether the subject is public health or history or conservation, when art gets involved, it tends to alchemize a conversation and reveal valuable new perspectives.”

The “Re-Examining Conversation” exhibition is on view throughout the entire Granoff Center for the Creative Arts through Friday, June 10. It includes an online audio tour with artist statements and more information about each piece. A free, public reception will take place at the Granoff Center on Thursday, April 21, at 5:30 p.m. 

The symposium kicks off on Thursday, April 21, and concludes at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 23. A full schedule is available on the exhibition and symposium website.  

The exhibition and symposium are free and open to the public.