Where Art and Science Intersect
Colby’s Buck Lab for Climate and Environment funds an art project about the vulnerability of the Gulf of Maine
Viva Goetze ’24 is helping transform a small room inside the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath into a vast seascape. Oceanic paintings, sculptures, fabrics, ceramics, videos, lights, and sounds coalesce in Sea Change: Darkness and Light in the Gulf of Maine, the newest installation in an ongoing climate change awareness project by Maine-based artist Anna Dibble.
Opening in early February in one of Maine’s most popular museums, the ambitious art installation is a collective endeavor involving several artists, researchers, educators, and college students. Goetze, an environmental science and studio art double major, got involved through Colby’s Buck Lab for Climate and Environment.
She was looking for a summer painting project following her sophomore year when she heard about the opportunity to work on Sea Change from Gail Carlson, director of the Buck Lab and assistant professor of environmental studies. “When I saw it was environmental science and art, I thought, ‘I should try that out,’” Goetze said. “It was perfect.”
Colby established the Buck Lab in 2017 through a generous gift from Trustee Sandy Buck ’78 and his wife, Sissy Buck. The Buck Lab supports student internships and research projects in the sciences, as well as at the intersection of environmental studies and other fields such as English, philosophy, and the visual arts.
Such an interdisciplinary mission is in line with the varied interests of the Bucks. Sissy is a printmaker and book artist. Sandy, an American studies major while at Colby, is an avid conservationist and philanthropist. “He’s one of these donors who just is so passionate about Colby,” Carlson said. “He’s been so supportive of the Environmental Studies Department and so interested in helping students become environmental leaders.”
Dibble, founding director of the collaborative nonprofit Gulf of Maine EcoArts, was eager to enlist young artists to help with the project and contacted Carlson to ask about partnering with Colby. “It was one of those word-of-mouth things,” said Dibble. “We had heard the Buck Lab was open to providing interns for projects, so we talked to Gail, and she put the word out.”
Through her work with Gulf of Maine EcoArts, Dibble creates large-scale art installations that inspire stewardship by showcasing human connections to local marine biodiversity. That mission dovetails with Goetze and her passions in life. Goetze grew up in Richmond, Vt., where she fell in love with the outdoors, especially hiking and downhill ski racing. Her interest in the ocean, specifically the Gulf of Maine, formed while spending summers with her family along the shores of Acadia National Park.
Sea Change aims to raise awareness about the biodiversity of Cashes Ledge, an undersea mountain range that rises from the seabed to within 30 or 40 feet of the ocean’s surface 90 miles off the coast of Portland. The ledge breaks currents like a rock in a stream, moving water up, down, and around it to create a refuge for sea life. Given that the Gulf of Maine is among the fastest-warming bodies of water in the world, the artists hope their exhibition will bring greater attention to the imminent threat of climate change, as well as garner support for increased protection of the area.
The exhibition will be divided into themes of darkness and light, in literal and figurative applications. Goetze worked on the dark side of the equation. Using acrylic on canvas, she created a series of abstract black-and-white panels depicting the impacts of, and encouraging visitors to contemplate complex emotions surrounding, climate change. The seven-foot-tall panels are designed to convey a sense of despair. They will be dimly lit and will hang in such a way that visitors can walk around them.
Goetze has also painted a mural for the entrance to the installation, which, in contrast to her monochromatic panels, represents the vibrant biodiversity found on Cashes Ledge. “My goal was to really show that abundance of life before human intervention,” she said of the mural. “Sort of what it was, and what it might be in the future.” The mural, painted on an 18-by-22-inch canvas, will be digitally enlarged five times for the installation.
Goetze said that Sea Change has had a positive impact on her growth and confidence as an artist. Having tended toward realistic drawing and painting in the past, she said that the project has helped her develop a deeper appreciation for abstraction and the reflective space it creates for viewers. She is also gaining new experience with larger canvasses and restricted palettes.
She hopes the project will have a positive impact on the Gulf of Maine as well. “I hope visitors have a little bit of an experience of wonder and leave with an interest in what’s happening to that area with climate change and find the drive to help protect it,” she said.
Buck Lab offers transformative experiences
Carlson encourages Colby students to consider pursuing projects funded by the Buck Lab. The lab allows students to design their own independent studies or research experiences, often in collaboration with Colby faculty or external advisors.
Students apply for funding through grant proposals and can study a wide range of topics, disciplines, and even geographic regions if their project relates to the environment or climate change. Carlson noted that the Buck Lab is planning to support Erin Coughlin ’23 on a printmaking journey to Allen Island and other parts of Maine’s coast during Jan Plan. As an environmental science major, Coughlin hopes this project will help her explore the artistic side of her connection to the sea.
The Buck Lab also provides funding for students to work on projects initiated by local communities and organizations, including the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a leading marine science nonprofit in Portland. The lab is also partnering with the Lunder Institute for American Art and the Colby College Museum of Art to support students working with Sarah Sockbeson, a Wabanaki artist, Lunder Institute Senior Fellow, and Alfonso Ossorio Foundation Creative Production Grant recipient.
Carlson sees these collaborations as “mutually beneficial relationships” with lasting effects for both partner organizations and participating students. The Buck Lab enables students “to transform their education and help prepare them for their post-Colby lives,” Carlson said. It facilitates opportunities for first-year students to seniors, art majors and environmental studies majors, and others in between, including students who do community engagement and environmental justice work.
“I have students who contact me after they’ve graduated,” Carlson said, “and they’ll say, ‘that funded experience that I had—or that internship, or that project that I did—really set me on a path, and I became passionate about this issue.’ I can’t overstate how impactful this lab is through this extraordinarily generous donation.”
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