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American Society of Landscape Architects


April 2007 Issue

Finding the Art in Nature
Stacy Levy turns science into art in the landscape.

By Adam Regn Arvidson, ASLA

Finding the Art in Nature Photo Courtesy of Stacy Levy

"I have this problem with accuracy," admits Pennsylvania-based public artist Stacy Levy. "This isnít exactly how a stream should be: It should meander less farther downstream, but I suppose thatís why Iím an artist, so I can play with it a little."

Levy is talking specifically about her most recent installation, Lotic Meander, which was installed at the Ontario Science Center in Toronto last fall. Her words, though, get to the crux of her work and illustrate her goals, process, and personality. She has been turning science into art for more than 20 years, sometimes collecting water in glasses and allowing it to settle over time in a gallery space, sometimes etching glass or bronze or stone with primordial creatures, sometimes creating accurate river maps out of plumbing pipe. She is particularly interested in ecologyóand where ecology and human use collide. She has elegantly examined pollution, extinct species, urban vacancy, and basic natural phenomena that might otherwise go unnoticed. Her art exists at the tenuous line between chaos and order, a line present in both science and in art. "Iím comforted by the factual," she says, "but [some art] is going to be very boring if it is only science."

Lotic Meander is a theoretical stream course composed of 117 granite panels that undulate, end to end, across an outdoor terrace. The panels are endowed with raised swirls and curlicues that demonstrate, generally, the movement of water currents in a stream. The swirls are accurate: Levy consulted with stream ecologists and researched the fluid dynamics of small streams to get the basics, then added a little creative license. The result is that the raised current lines become more convoluted when the stream course turns a sharp corner and smoother when it runs through a straightaway (just like the actual currents would), but those lines and the waterway itself are placed for their aesthetic value and are not representational of a specific stream. "It is based on science," Levy says, laughing, "and my mood."

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