Category Archives: Master in Fine Arts

Exploring the disconnect between humans and the ocean

Unseen associations

We are all connected to the ocean, and organisms living in the ocean are an integral – if often unseen – part of our lives. You might be more connected to the ocean than you think. For example, fertilizer used to grow vegetables is often made from fish, and ingredients derived from fish are often added to processed foods. And amazingly, the ocean produces more than half of the oxygen on the planet, while also being responsible for storing 50 times more carbon dioxide than is found in the atmosphere.

The impact of human activity can be observed in a variety of ways. Run-off from agriculture empties into fragile marine ecosystems, and plastic accumulates in the ocean and cycles back into our food supply, for example. Consequences of human activity disturb a precarious balance that is not fully understood. Within the American mind, there is a fractured connection to the ocean, and it is this disconnect that Samm Newton is studying. As a 3rd year Master’s student in the Environmental Arts and Humanities program in the College of Liberal Arts, she is exploring multiple questions as part of her thesis. What has been the role of science and technology in how we have known the ocean? What has been the relationship between that knowledge and how we have valued and made decisions about marine systems? And, how can scholars approach the study of these relationships in new ways?

Scientific inquiry is a tangled knot: the direction of research is often decided based on narrow criteria

Scientific funding agencies have often determined the direction of research based on the priorities of a moment in time. Some priorities arose from crises, while others might have been derived from a perceived risk to lives in human or animal communities. Other priorities were influenced by what types of technology and datasets were available. Within that structure, it has been difficult for science to be innovative if it doesn’t address a problem that has been classified as relevant by funding authorities. Samm explains further, “we have taken the environment, deconstructed its components, and focused only on certain aspects that we deemed interesting at a given moment, while the rest of the pieces slid into the background.”

Samm studies the ocean using methods traditionally associated with the humanities. She describes her method as an interdisciplinary approach to unpack how we have generated knowledge about the ocean through science. Her approach includes extracting information from scientific history and papers, archives, oral histories, as well as popular literature from sources like National Geographic and the Washington Post.

Different ways to think about our connection with the ocean

How can we encourage people to recognize their connection to the ocean, and direct their attention to how their lives are impacted by ocean issues? Samm indicates how advancements in technology and media have created new ways for people to access scientific knowledge about the ocean. With outlets such as Nautilus live, people can learn about ocean ecosystems by watching videos of organisms living in the sea. They can also interact with scientists in real time (check out this one about a large number of octopus brooding near Monterey Bay, CA. Science videos on the internet have become an engaging and popular way to share knowledge of the ocean and science with a broad audience.

“The ocean is very special to me.”

Samm grew up in the “shadow of the petrochemical industry” in Freeport, Texas, where the sea is brown, and air and water pollution are an everyday reality. Observing these anthropogenic forces impacting her coast and community, and how disconnected people seem to be from the ocean, led her to question the relationship between humans and marine environments. She found that science and technology have played a dominant role in how we have known the ocean—and possibly how we have valued it. Samm also found that methods from the humanities, particularly marine environmental history, as well as science and technology studies, provide a meaningful framework to examine that relationship further.

During her undergrad, Samm studied psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology, with a focus toward consciousness and philosophy of the mind. She spent 10 years working outside of academia before pursuing a Master’s degree at OSU. Samm credits the Environmental Arts and Humanities program at OSU with providing a flexible framework for people from different backgrounds – including art and science – to decide how they want to study a topic of interest.

After finishing her Master’s degree, Samm plans to pursue a PhD in an interdisciplinary field studying environmental issues. As a graduate student at OSU, Samm has enjoyed working in a “scholarly space, and getting the opportunity to do research.” Beyond grad school, Samm’s goal is to be involved in work that transforms the world, and to contribute to projects that strengthen interdisciplinary associations between diverse, yet interconnected, academic fields.

Check out Samm’s exhibit at Autzen House on the OSU campus:The Need to Know Comes in Waves: Paintings by Samm Newton

On view from Sept. 20th – Dec. 15th, 10 AM – 4 PM at Autzen House (811 SW Jefferson)

Reception Oct. 18th, 4 – 6 PM; mini artist talks at 4:30 and 5:30

Samm will also be the Featured Artist at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR in January 2019. Check out this page for more details!

Why do we care? An examination of pop culture icons.

Celebrities are the center of modern pop culture in the U.S. and around the world. We look to these people for clues about what to wear, what music to listen to, where to spend our money, and even what to believe. These icons have become larger than life; their influence on the world around them stretches beyond their daily interactions or even the time frame in which they lived. What is it that captivates us about these characters and what is it like to live a life in the spotlight? img_3356Joe Donovan, a student in the creative writing program here at Oregon State University, is interested in the inflated influence of pop culture icons on society.

From an early age Joe has been an active writer. He recounts journaling frequently as a young student in middle and high school. During his college years, at Willamette University, Joe was influenced by a fantastic english professor who helped him to refine his craft. Joe came to Oregon State University to further perfect his writing style and he has found plenty of inspiration under the tutelage of his advisor, Elena Passarello.

Joe’s work today focuses on three icons in pop culture; Prince, an egyptian puppet named Abla Fahita, and Flo the Progressive insurance lady. His writing on Prince plans to examine the early life of Prince, specifically his birth in 1958 during the peak of Sputnik hysteria. Many people may not have heard of Abla Fahita before, but this puppet’s influence grew great enough that the Egyptian government is investigating its encouragement of terrorist attacks. Joe hopes to shed some light on how a satirical puppet can shape international policy. The third essay Joe is working on examines the rise of Flo the Progressive insurance lady. How did a failed actress become one of the most recognizable characters in current pop culture? After ten years on the air, how does actress Stephanie Courtney separate real life and Flo life? All of these characters represent simple characters who have had a surprising influence on the world, and Joe hopes to share some thoughts on how they rose to fame.

Keep an eye out for Joe’s stories in the future, I guarantee they’ll be worth the read. Also, tune in on Sunday at 7pm (PST) on 88.7 KBVR to hear Joe’s take on these Icons of pop culture.

Workshop-Around the World

Twenty years in the future, U. S. A.

 Civilization has changed dramatically in the aftermath of a plague. Communication is limited and travel is prohibited for most. Two sisters are separated by thousands of miles, one in San Francisco and one in Pittsburgh. They want desperately to reunite, but traveling across the country is nearly impossible nowadays.

 Brooke, or Book-book as her sister Lane calls her, just wants to go, anywhere, a step forward is a step closer to Lane. She can’t get a travel permit, what will she do? She boards a train west, an unauthorized passenger on a train going…somewhere. Conditions on the train are inhospitable to say the least, but what did she expect. She arrives at her destination, a labor camp. This train was not restricting passengers, and now Book-book is a prisoner. Forward yes, but now Brooke is trapped and no closer to reaching Lane.

 Conditions are worsening in San Francisco. People are desperate to the point of violence. Lane is not alone; not alone like Book-book. Now she has a choice. Does she follow her partner and flee the city for their own safety? How will Book-book find her?

The above was inspired by conversation with Mackenzie Smith about her novel-in-process.

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A group photo of some of the writers who participated in the creative writing workshops at the National University of Timor-Leste in Dili. Mackenzie Smith (center).

We are hanging in suspense this week on Inspiration Dissemination as our guest, Mackenzie Smith, first year M. F. A. in Creative Writing, briefly described novel she is writing, tentatively titled, The Clearest Way into the Universe. For Mackenzie, this novel, which she plans to use as her thesis project, started out as a short story she wrote before coming to OSU. Now she is wrapped in this novel, “chewing” over the fine details as she rides her bike, browses the grocery store, and chats with colleagues at workshop. Her message for students and young writers is, “writing is a process of thinking.”

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A “kudos wall” at the launch party and reading in Timor-Leste where audience members left compliments and words of encouragement for the writers.

Mackenzie really is writing all the time and she is no stranger to workshops. She is a former Luce Scholar in India and Fulbright Fellow in Montenegro where she ran writing workshops and hosted story clubs. She just returned from Timor-Leste where she co-organized a writing workshop that resulted in an online zine featuring original compositions from Timorese writers. Additionally, Mackenzie is the Non-fiction editor for a literary magazine Print-oriented Bastards.

 

 

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Belina Maia Do Rosario reads her work in Dili, Timor-Leste at the launch party and reading for the zine, Writing Around Memory and Place.

Mackenzie likes that creative writing allows you to expand upon your interests and experiences. In her novel, Mackenzie brings her experience traveling and conveys the human emotion of uncertainty when making big decisions that affect your future and your familial relationships. Mackenzie writes because, “when people consume a piece of art, they change the way they think, the way they act, and the way they feel. Art can change their lives and a little at a time – art can change the world.”

You won’t want to miss this interview. Hear an except from The Clearest Way into the Universe read by the author and learn more about Mackenzie’s unique and adventurous journey to graduate school by tuning into 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis or stream the show live at 7 pm on Sunday April, 17.