KINGSTON – July 20, 2022 – The University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence Campus Lobby Gallery is hosting Synergy: Below the Surface II, an art exhibition running through July 28 featuring works by artists from across the country. The exhibition presents art dealing with life, conditions and research under the sea surface.
Synergy: Below the Surface II brings together original pieces from Synergy Project: Below the Surface, a collaboration between the Art League RI and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Below the Surface II, a new juried exhibition of works that are inspired by the original project. These projects follow on from “Synergy,” a program founded in 2012 that, according to its website, “creates partnerships between artists and researchers.”
Steven Pennell, director of the university’s Urban Arts & Culture Program, said the partners first presented Synergy: Below the Surface in May 2021 in Falmouth, Massachusetts. “The artists and scientists have continued to work on their projects,” said Pennell, who is responsible for bringing exhibits to the gallery on the Providence campus. “In addition, the Art League called for a national competition for artists to create work related to the ocean and under the ocean.”
While not every artist whose work is on display in the lobby gallery has been paired with a scholar, they all do their own research before diving into a new work.
“If they’re going to do something on a certain topic, they have to do their own research,” Pennell said. “Artists don’t just say, ‘Oh, I feel like drawing whatever,’ there’s actually a really strong educational component.”
According to Pennell, the exhibition includes around 130 works.
“We’ve got a 14-foot piece made out of nets and marine life, all made out of fabric that had to be fireproof,” he said, “we’ve got paintings, we’ve got sculptures, we’ve got a bronze piece that’s cast in a kind of a wave shape, photographic work, we have a metal fish that is over 3 feet long hung in a way that makes it look like it is diving. Simply gorgeous, gorgeous artworks in all media.”
The original “Synergy” project was funded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Woods Hole, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
“This project came to us, but it’s coming from Massachusetts,” said Ruth Clegg, executive chair of the Art League Rhode Island, “and we thought we were Rhode Island. How do we integrate Rhode Island?”
Clegg worked with Pennell, the artists and others from the Art League to bring the exhibit to URI’s Providence gallery.
“It was natural, it has to be part of URI,” Clegg said. “There are many connections. I went to URI. Ellen Matesanz, who co-managed the project on the Art League side, also joined URI. It was very natural.”
Clegg not only helped make the project a reality, but also included a piece in the exhibition.
“I have a piece in ‘Synergy II,’ a photograph I took from my boat on my way to Block Island in Narragansett Bay,” she said, “and the title is ‘Blue Sky and Brown Water.’ “
The photo shows a beautiful cloudy blue sky next to a brown ocean after heavy rain caused soil to spill into the bay.
“It’s still beautiful, but the water shouldn’t be brown,” she said. “It’s brown because of the incredible rains we’ve had and the runoff of soil into the bay, and also later in the season the bay is heating up and there’s more microorganisms in it.”
Another artist whose work is featured in the exhibition is Kathy Hodge from River bank. She has been a painter since she was young and has been an artist-in-residence in 12 national parks and two national forests. Until recently she had a full-time job, but made the switch to being a full-time artist about six months ago.
After being contacted by the Art League about possible collaborations with scientists just prior to the pandemic, she was paired with Chrissy Hernandez, Ph.D., who was completing her PhD at Woods Hole at the time and working on larvae (baby) fish , especially larvae, studied tuna.
“I had never done a collaboration before, but I’ve always been interested in science,” Hodge said.
The two communicated mostly via Zoom and weren’t able to meet in person until recently, but were still able to work together. After Hernandez sent her photos of some tuna larvae, which are plankton at this stage, Hodge collected her own water samples to look at the plankton under a microscope. She also visited a Bluefin Tuna Bonanza in Maine to see the tuna and fishermen up close.
The finished work, a large three-panel painting called Drifter’s Triptych, took about two years to complete. In addition to the painting itself, she also installed magnifying lenses on it to show where Hernandez had spotted the tuna larva. Ultimately, she hopes to donate the piece to an educational or marine research organization.
“I hope that people will enjoy watching it and also get some information from it,” Hodge said, “because I think it might be something that might spur people to ask questions about what it is.” means. It’s nice to bring it out into the open.”
On Thursday, July 21, the exhibit will be part of Gallery Night Providence, a “free night with access to some of Providence’s hottest art spots,” according to the website. There will be tours of the gallery, located on the first and second floors of the main lobby, and a performance by the Providence Drum Troupe. The gallery night takes place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m
Synergy: Below the Surface II will be on view in the gallery through Thursday, July 28th. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the Providence campus at 80 Washington St. in Providence. Admission is free and the gallery is open to the public.
The free exhibition is sponsored by the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education & Professional Studies. Artists do not have to pay a fee for the exhibition of their work and are not paid by the university. However, those interested in purchasing the works can contact Pennell and he will put them in touch with the artist concerned.
Mary Lind, a graduate student working for URI’s Marketing and Communications department, wrote this release.