Artist explores nano-scale landscape

(Edmonton) As a landscape artist, Patti Pente is used to navigating the notions of space and scale. But in her latest works, Pente finds herself working in a much smaller scale—nano, to be exact.

That’s not to say that viewing her current works will require a powerful microscope. In fact, her works are visual experiments based on her collaboration with the National Institute for Nanotechnology. As the second Scholar-in-Residence for Arts Research at NINT, Pente (an associate professor of elementary education) saw the opportunity to partake in what she calls “dislodging myself from the familiar” by exploring the nano landscape and how we perceive ourselves, each other and that space—the same approach she takes when working with more traditional landscape images.

Pente is quick to quell any preconceived notions about the nature of the project and the residency. “This project is not about art and/or artists acting in a public relations position on behalf of nanotechnology, nor is it simply scientific materials and procedures becoming the materials of art,” she said. “This kind of project is about seeking a symbiotic relationship between two different subject areas, and about a sharing of ideas among people with different areas of expertise. I never know what will happen when I begin this kind of project.”

Although Pente’s time at NINT concluded in May, the experience has fostered growth and greater curiosity. She was grateful for the co-operation of NINT researchers and was pleased to have been able to contribute an image for one of their papers that was published in a leading scientific journal. She points out that the nano space may seem complicated and technical when we look at the digital renderings of the data, but at its core, she says, “It’s all about the basic structures of the world.” Though she and her nanotech colleagues share the same interests in “what if” scenarios, she says the worlds in which they create are quite different, and the distinctions are not lost on her.

“In our physical world, we live and exist with all our senses, yet within the nano realm, scientists typically work and navigate with the visual, as do landscape artists,” she said. “What if data were translated into the other senses; what might it sound like? What would it smell like? This kind of conversation I greatly enjoyed with the NINT scientists. All of those senses that we don’t typically consider in landscape art—I’m quite interested in that.”

Pente’s project yielded a series called Wired Roots. The next stage of her work will take place in a working studio installation at the Herbert T. Coutts Library beginning Oct. 14. Over two weeks, she will continue to explore the questions raised about scale and sense of place. Pente says visitors are invited to explore, question and interact with her and the works in place. She wants attendees to see landscape art as something more than decoration. She hopes that they come away with a heightened understanding and appreciation of it, and of nanotechnology.

“Viewers might think of what these two [things] are doing together—nanotechnology and landscape art—and think about their own bodies in this space in terms of a sense of scale, and of how we perceive the world,” she said. “If they can even just consider that for a minute, then I’ll be happy.”