Hanging on the wall of Hayley Gillespie’s Art.Science.Gallery. is the answer to the universe. In an 11-by-14 inch print, the Earth sits upon the back of a great turtle who rests on the back of another and another, ad infitum.
The print illustrates a centuries-old anecdote about a lecturing astronomer who was explaining how the Earth revolves around the sun, only to be challenged by an audience member who declared he was wrong. To the student, the world was flat and it sat on the back of a giant tortoise—a popular myth in several cultures. As the professor repeatedly asked what could possibly be beneath the turtle, the student replied: “It’s turtles all the way down!”
The idiom “turtles all the way down” has since taken on a life of its own—depending whom you ask, it can refer to circular logic or the conflict between science and myth. It’s just the kind of idea that Gillespie’s gallery, located at the intersection of art and science communication, is meant to contemplate.
“I get a kick out of it too because all the turtles are actually different species of turtles with scientific names,” says Gillespie, PhD ’11.
The print is part of the the current exhibit at the Art.Science.Gallery., titled “COSMIC,” which showcases artwork that explores the cosmos. Created by artist Ele Willoughby, the tortoise piece is just one of the many discoveries Gillespie’s gallery has to offer. “I like inspiring people to learn more about the world,” she says.
Tucked away in one of the many spaces at the Canopy in East Austin, the gallery is a small but spacious showroom complete with clean, white walls, and bright lighting. When guests enter, a little table stands nearby with informational flyers and a donation jar, though admission is free. Past the artwork, in the back of the gallery, there’s a gift shop with walls covered in framed artwork, jewelry, and other items from previously featured artists.
Gillespie held her first exhibit at the current location in 2013, but started displaying other people’s art a year before, hosting pop-up shows in whatever place she could. She remembers her first show at a church where she showcased the work of artist Emily Bryant, who collected invasive species of plants, chopped them up, then dried them to create collages.
From there, she raised money until she could afford a permanent place. With a background in art and a PhD in ecology and evolution, Gillespie aimed to bring her two interests together; she wanted to use art as a tool for communicating science to the public. “Observation is one of the main things art and science have in common,” she says. “They just use different tool sets.”
With exhibits that change every five to six weeks, about half of the featured artists are Austin-based. The others are artists from around North America and Europe. Illustrator and owner of Ink and Sword design studio Jedidiah Dore currently has his prints depicting the navigation technology of Polynesian Wayfinders, highly skilled ancient voyagers who used astrology and mythology to travel the oceans, on display at the gallery. He says having a place to show his art is a chance to share what he’s learned.
“There’s a childlike playfulness about it,” he says. “Just being immersed in something that you learn and finding something valuable you can’t wait to share is the most rewarding part.”
Gillespie shares similar sentiments. For her, the important thing about combining art and science is the research. One of her most notable works is her collage portrait series, the Darwin Day Portrait Project, which can be found at the Texas Memorial Museum, in which she reproduces famous and not-so-famous scientists using bits of paper.
“With the portrait series, I learn so much about the scientists and what they do,” she says. “So I think that’s it with art and science—it’s the discovery.”
Although Gillespie established Art.Science.Gallery. on her own, she and Dore have begun working on expanding the gallery together, along with the numerous interns she hires. Aside from the recent launch of the gallery’s online store, Gillespie and her team often host lectures, film screenings, and recently began a second semester of classes for anyone looking to combine art and science.
“I wanted to start a class series because there isn’t a lot of opportunity to learn about science once they leave a university system,” Gillespie says, “These are topics that are just a part of our everyday lives.”
They offer classes such as Poetics of the Natural World, in which students explore the universe through a literary perspective, and Botanical Illustration, which focuses on how to create realistic drawings of live plant specimens. On Feb. 13, the gallery will host The Science of Chocolate, where students will learn about the evolution of the cacao plant, the biochemistry of compounds in chocolate, and taste some sweets of their own.
Gillespie says one of her favorite parts about running the gallery is receiving a call from a guest who went home and researched a gallery subject on their own. But whether a visitor reads every art description in depth or just wants to take a glance around, she wants each person to walk away excited about what they saw.
“I hope people leave knowing at least one thing that they didn’t know about the world before,” she says.
Photo courtesy of Hayley Gillespie
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