Friday, April 6, 2018

Ohio River water quality/art project

As an artist I entered the project with the hopes of being inspired by something that would lead to a visual expression. I wanted my "research" to be creative and I allowed it to unfold as a series of related but diverse information gathering excursions.

Electrofishing with Chris [Lorentz, Professor of Biology, Thomas More College] gave me an understanding of the amazing ecosystem of the river itself. Next I met with the Ohio River foundation and talked about the main causes of pollution in the river. In 2015 there was a 500 mile long algae bloom on the river, and this phenomena captured my creative imagination as a subject to focus my goals. I did research about the documented history of industrial pollution on the river, and at the public library found an especially amazing photograph of the Cincinnati river bank from the 19th century.

In the photo you can clearly see the sewage run off exiting buildings at the rivers edge. In this small section of the photo you can see the open sewer ditch. The photo was taken in 1848 and the next year a cholera epidemic swept the city.

In my design courses, I try to get students to become more sensitive to color and shape as tools to shape an environment. For the algal bloom project, I met with a select group of talented students and we talked about the algal bloom as an experience, something immersive and expressive, so that we might find a way to personify it visually.

First we decided on a shape quality and the beginning of a color system. These decisions were based on principles of good design married to the specific attributes of the algal bloom. Here is a first small hand painted design. In this painting, we stuck to the literal blue green color scheme and used a botanical motif. The rectangle itself is a golden rectangle and the shapes are interacting with further golden ratio divisions within the larger rectangle.

Although this initial design is very interesting to look at, it does not embody the voracious life cycle and disruptive quality of the bloom. We took the initial painting and spent a long time working with it on the computer, mirroring and multiplying the design across a larger expanse. We changed the color to be more perceptually intense, and further intensified the relationship between the botanical shapes and the internal geometry of the design. The final design is here:

We hosted the NCBDS conference on the beginning design student here at UC a couple weeks ago, and I presented the project and printed the poster at a large scale.

I would love to display it more, either virtually or physically, Do you know of any opportunities? I have a file that can be printed at various scales, and it is a really exciting/immersive visual experience.


Emil Robinson

ps I can send better quality files if needed

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