"Beach Plastics"

FAIRBANKS — A special exhibit that begins Friday at Well Street Art Company focuses on the hidden world of microscopic organisms — bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae and viruses.

These are all microbes, the most numerous and diverse organisms on the planet. Some cause disease and contribute to climate change. Others promote human health, remove toxins from the environment and maintain healthy ecosystems.

The exhibit offers a unique and artistic portrayal of these organisms thanks to a collaboration between artists and scientists. For 16 months, a group of artists and writers collaborated with more than 30 scientists who shared research about everything from infectious disease to ecosystem ecology. Those artists then developed work inspired by that micro-world, its visual beauty and the roles those microbes play in human and environmental health. Imagine painting, sculpture, tile, printmaking, textile art, books, writing and multimedia works all inspired by microorganisms. Writers will provide literary readings of their pieces from this project.

Alaskans participating include Susan Campbell, Annie Duffy, Nancy Hausle-Johnson, Jessie Hedden, Eric Henderson, Mariah Henderson, Margo Klass, Debbie Clarke Moderow, Jennifer Moss, Ree Nancarrow, Gail Priday and Sara Tabbert. San Diego artist Charlotte Bird and Brooklyn artist Stephanie Rae Dixon also participated.

This is the fifth major art and science project presented by the “In A Time of Change” program, or ITOC. The program was founded in 2008 by artists and scientists in Fairbanks with support from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Bonanza Creek Longterm Ecological Research program.

“ITOC recognizes that the arts, humanities and sciences bring different yet synergistic perspectives and reactions to the natural world,” said Mary Beth Leigh, who spearheads the project through a series of grants.

Leigh is the co-founder and director of the ITOC. She is also an associate professor in the department of biology and wildlife and in the Institute of Arctic Biology at UAF. She is an environmental microbiologist with a background in the fine arts as a dancer, choreographer and musician. That has spurred her strong interest in collaborative arts-humanities-science activities.

“Collaborations between the arts, humanities and sciences engage people at the intellectual, intuitive and emotional levels, and strengthen their appreciation for the environments and ecosystems in which they live,” she said in a press release.

Combining those diverse perspectives helps solve complex environmental problems and promotes outreach and education, she added.

The opening on Friday will feature some unusual presentations, including live DNA analysis and a dance as part of a multimedia installation focusing on decomposition, and the many microbes that make decomposition happen.

Based on collaboration with a research institute in northern Finland, Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Dixon designed costumes, buried them and allowed them to decompose, right alongside Leigh’s scientific research on the microbiology of decomposition. The pieces were photographed over a three-year period. The microbes that “colonized” the dresses will be identified through live DNA analysis.

If You Go

What: In A Time of Change: Microbial Worlds

When: Exhibit opens Friday, Feb. 3, with a reception from 5-8 p.m. that includes a literary reading and dance performance. The exhibit is on display through Feb. 27.

Where: Well Street Art Company, 1304 Well St.

More info: itoc.alaska.edu

Contact Community Editor Kris Capps at 459-7546 or on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMkris