KINGSTON — July 20, 2022 — The University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence Campus lobby gallery is hosting “Synergy: Below the Surface II,” an art exhibit running through July 28 that features works from artists across the country. The exhibit presents art that looks at life, conditions and research beneath the ocean’s surface.
“Synergy: Below the Surface II” brings together original pieces from “Synergy Project: Below the Surface,” which was a collaboration between Art League RI and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and “Below the Surface II,” a new juried exhibition comprised of works inspired by the original project. These projects are successors to “Synergy,” a program founded in 2012 that “creates partnerships between artists and research scientists,” according to its website.
Steven Pennell, the director of the University’s Urban Arts & Culture Program, said the partners first presented “Synergy: Below the Surface,” in Falmouth, Massachusetts, in May 2021. “The artists and the scientists have continued to work on their projects,” said Pennell, who is responsible for bringing exhibits to the Providence campus gallery. “In addition, the Art League put out a call for a national competition for artists to create work that had to do with the ocean and beneath the ocean.”
While not every artist whose work displayed in the lobby gallery was paired with a scientist, they all do their own research before diving into a new piece of work.
“When they go about doing something that’s topically based, they have to do their own research,” Pennell said. “Artists are not just like, ‘oh, I feel like painting whatever,’ there’s actually a really strong educational component to it.”
According to Pennell, there are roughly 130 works in the exhibit.
“We have a 14-foot piece that’s netting and ocean life, all made out of fabric, which had to be fire retardant,” he said, “we have paintings, we have sculptures, we have a bronze piece that’s cast in sort of a wave shape, photographic work, we have a metal fish that is more than 3 feet long and it’s suspended in a way that looks like it’s doing a dive. Just gorgeous, gorgeous works of art 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 from Massachusetts,” said Ruth Clegg, the head of the board of Art League Rhode Island, “and we thought well, we’re Rhode Island. How do we get Rhode Island involved?”
Clegg worked with Pennell, the artists and others from the Art League to bring the exhibit to URI’s Providence gallery.
“It was just natural, it needs to be part of URI,” Clegg said. “There’s a lot of connections. I went to URI. Ellen Matesanz, who is a co-manager of the project on the Art League side, went to URI as well. It was very natural.”
Clegg, in addition to helping bring the project to fruition, also has a piece in the exhibit.
“I have one piece in ‘Synergy II,’ a photograph I shot from my boat on the 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 juxtaposed with a brown ocean after lots of rain caused soil runoffs to go 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 had and the runoff of soil into the bay, and also later in the season the bay heats up and there’s more microorganisms in there.”
Another artist whose work is featured in the exhibit is Kathy Hodge of Riverside. She has been a painter since she was a teenager and has been an artist-in-residence at 12 national parks and two national forests. Until recently, she held a full-time job, but around six months ago made the switch to become a full-time artist.
After being contacted by the Art League just before the pandemic about potentially working with scientists, she was paired with Chrissy Hernandez, Ph.D., who at the time was completing her thesis at Woods Hole studying larval (baby) fish, in particular larval tuna.
“I hadn’t done a collaboration before, but I’ve always been interested in science,” Hodge said.
The two communicated largely over Zoom and weren’t able to meet in-person until recently, but were able to collaborate nonetheless. After Hernandez sent her photos of some of the larval tuna, which at that stage are plankton, Hodge collected her own water samples to view the plankton under a microscope. She also visited a ‘Bluefin Tuna Bonanza’ in Maine to observe the tuna and the fishermen up close.
The finished work, a large three-panel painting called “Drifters Triptych,” took around two years to complete. In addition to the painting itself, she also installed magnifying lenses on it to show where Hernandez had discovered the larval tuna. Ultimately, she hopes to donate the piece to an educational or ocean science organization.
“I’m hoping that people will enjoy seeing it and get some information out of it as well,” Hodge said, “because I think it could be something that could spur people to start asking questions about what it means. It’s nice to get it out into the public.”
“Synergy: Below the Surface II” will be at the gallery until Thursday, July 28. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Providence Campus, located at 80 Washington St. in Providence. Admission is free and the gallery is open to the public.
The free exhibit is sponsored by the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education & Professional Studies. Artists do not have to pay a fee for their work to be shown and they 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 individual artist.
Mary Lind, a graduate student working for URI’s Department of Marketing and Communications, wrote this release.