Why do you love working in conservation?
We take in desert tortoises, a threatened species, and rehabilitate them, raising public awareness while conducting research. After tortoises are released for relocation, they are radio tagged and I go out and track them. I love being in the field, being outdoors and contributing to research that furthers scientific understanding. In conservation we’re not just protecting these resources for ourselves, we want to spark public interest for a better understanding of what we do. It’s fulfilling to me but I hope that when people see the results, it fulfills them, too.
You are also an artist. how do you view your role in the intersection of science and art?
In science, people tend to believe that answers are right or wrong. Environmental studies, however, is a science that deals with interactions between people and the environment. A gray area arises through the human element, the interpretation and implementation of solutions as people try to agree on conflicting ideas. There are various perspectives, whether cultural, ethnic or racial.
Therefore, I think the key problem facing environmental scientists is communication. As a scientist and artist, I believe creative mediums can powerfully convey scientific fact. Through the union of the two, complex environmental issues can be addressed in a novel, impactful and engaging way.
Describe your thesis on the Los angeles River.
The river is considered by many to be little more than a storm drain. Yet it contains life; its riparian ecosystem exists in the northern reaches, giving birds, fish and even humans a safe haven. I researched this ecosystem from a dual artistic and scientific perspective. I created anthotype and cyanotype photographs, developing the pictures with the extracts of fruit. I also created an oil painting of the river on unprimed canvas using tar from the La Brea Tar Pits. But I consider the temporality of it all: through the sun’s rays and oxidation, all these works will eventually fade away. The tar will eat at the canvas just as pollutants make it difficult for life to exist in the ecosystem. This idea of temporality causes us to think deeply about what we value.
If you were any aspect of the L.A. River, what would you be?
The collective spirit of the people who are trying to revitalize the river — the people who use and appreciate the river, not seeing it as storm drainage but as a living ecosystem.