The Art of Science: Exploring Our Relationship With Water

Copyright: Sarah Stankey

Several months ago, Kelly O’Ferrell, the Hasler Lab coordinator here at the Center for Limnology had the brilliant idea to beautify the cinder-block hallways by turning our stairwell into a rotating exhibition of local artists. So Kelly put out a call to any artist working with aquatic themes.
Sarah Stankey. Photo by A. Hinterthuer

The results have been striking. We currently have some captivating and eerie prints from Jeremiah Zuba on display, and we’ll talk about his creative use of cyanotype prints and dead fish in a future post. But, for now, we wanted to share a conversation we had with our previous artist-on-display – Madison-born photographer, Sarah Stankey.
Stankey, who is now pursuing a graduate degree in the UW-Madison Art department, stopped by to chat about the art/science interface, what influences her work and how art and science are more alike than people (including her father) think.
CFL: What drew you toward water in your work?
Stankey: I grew up in the Madison area, so I think water is a big part of everybody’s life when you grow up in the Yaraha watershed. I went to undergrad in Milwaukee which, of course, is also next to a large body of water and, though my work isn’t always about water, it’s about human relationships to the land and human intervention on the landscape. So I think it’s really hard to have that conversation, especially in the upper Midwest, and not have water as part of it.
CFL: Can you tell us about your display at Hasler Lab?
Stankey: I’m interested in the traditions of fishing and hunting, those types of sport activities people do in order to connect to nature and how there’s that kind of battle between a symbiotic relationship and a traumatic one. In the pieces that [were] up[at Hasler Lab] I think these themes are more connected visually when there’s a human figure in the picture, because then it’s more physically connected to the landscape.
Copyright: Sarah Stankey

CFL: How long have you been doing photography?
Stankey: I’ve been doing photography since I was in high school. I majored in it in undergrad, where I got my BFA in photography and now I’ll be getting my MFA in photography [from UW-Madison]. So I’ve been doing this a while (laughs). I do work with other media but the wall lends itself well to flat work and photography.
CFL: In the scientific world, there is a push to communicate differently and art/science collaborations have been held up as innovative ways to do that. Is there a similar push in the art world to connect more to science?
Stankey: Generically I would say ‘No.’ Most artists are thinking in their art bubble and making work for the art world. But it seems like, more and more, artists are interested in the interdisciplinary world and especially at a research university like this, which is why I personally chose to come [to UW-Madison] because I wanted that conversation to happen. But there are definitely artists who don’t care to have that conversation. They’re not making work for the general public and they’re not making art for academia.
CFL: If you switched just a couple of words in that statement, you could say the same thing about some scientists!
Stankey: Right. But I think science and art have so much in common and I have always been interested in that. My Dad is into science. He’s a physicist. And he would always tell me that they [art and science] have nothing in common. But, to me, it seems like they’re always seeking out answers in a similar way and researching the world in similar ways.

You can catch Sarah’s latest exhibit “Pushing Up Daisies” at the UW/Art Art Lofts April 13-21.

Copyright: Sarah Stankey