Science under the microscope of the visual arts: NewsCenter
Double majoring in art and geology, Gabrielle Meli, a senior at the University of Rochester, brings scientific processes to her art.
As a teenager, Gabrielle Meli ’22 had already fallen in love twice: first with art; then with science.
“I have loved art all my life. My mother encouraged my artistic career, then in eighth grade, I fell in love with earth sciences,” she explains. She thought of pursuing a career in either art or geology. Then, she says, “the older I got and the more classes I took in high school and college, I was like, ‘why do they have to be separated? “”
Meli is one of seven studio art majors in the Department of Art and Art History who presented an interdisciplinary thesis exhibition at the end of the spring 2022 semester. Her show is called Birefringence– a phenomenon that occurs when plane-polarized light passes through minerals under a microscope. Geologists can identify minerals by their behavior in this cross-polarized light. “It will be a little brownish, and sometimes it can be green depending on what mineral you’re looking at,” she says. “When you walk through these polarized lights, you get this beautiful colorful picture of the minerals.”
STEM fields and art are “more connected than people think,” says Meli, a native of Henrietta, New York, who will graduate in May 2022 with a double major in geology and studio arts.
In the summer of 2021, she attended a field camp in Cardwell, Montana through Indiana University where she gained hands-on experience with how field geologists work. “It was a great experience,” she says. “We went to Glacier and Yellowstone and studied the local geology in the Tabacco Root Mountains.”
Coincidentally, for Meli, the work that geologists do involves maps, drawings and diagrams. Researchers are encouraged to draw what they see when taking samples from the field and observing rocks. “We map and plan what we think the rocks are doing underground. In my notebook, there are so many sketches of rocks that I see or cross-sections that I see of potential folds or faults,” she says.
Exploitation of fodder minerals and the fight against gender inequality
Meli uses ordinary materials in her show, such as acrylic paint and CMYK screen printing, but true to form, she experiments with materials mined from her geological finds to create her paint pigment. “It was a super interesting process,” she says. One of his pieces bear tooth, includes an ink resulting from a copper oxidation reaction. The process involves soaking scrap copper in a bath of salt and vinegar; the salt is a catalyst for the reaction, but the vinegar helps oxidize the copper and create a “beautiful blue liquid,” says Meli.
Meli became a teaching assistant in an introductory printmaking class taught by Mizin Shin, an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History. Shin, who taught Meli advanced printmaking, recalls recommending Meli a book by Toronto Ink Company owner Jason Logan titled Crafting Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Crafting Natural Ink during a class review of one of Meli’s works. Meli made good use of the suggestion. “In a short time, I saw that she had a lot of professionalism in her work,” Shin says.
Combining art and science isn’t the only thing on Meli’s mind these days. She also uses her art to fight inequality for women in STEM fields. One of his pieces is a crocheted textile that depicts a mineral under a microscope and a thin section of rock. She observes that there is a stigma against craft arts, such as crocheting, knitting and quilting, which are often not considered serious art forms. “I wanted to show how you can get the same picture by taking a photo of it or crocheting it, but one will be seen more seriously than the other” – even when the crochet picture involved a lot more work than the photograph .
Meli will continue at the University in the one-year teaching and curriculum program at the Warner School of Education. She sees a future in a non-traditional education setting where she can focus on STEM and art. “I never imagined myself being a teacher, but I realized that I love the community and togetherness when you’re teaching and helping someone learn,” she says. “It will be a fun way to combine my science.”
Rochester students, faculty and staff have found creative ways to turn bacterial cells, salivary glands and oil spills into winners of the annual Art of Science competition.