Artist Lab Report:
Thanks Iowa Lakeside Lab Friends!

by Calee Cecconi

This experience inspired me!

I will be forever grateful for the two weeks I spent making and being outdoors at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory. I wish I was there at a different time since the pandemic made it a little hard to socialize the way I would have liked to, but I’m still grateful for the experience. It inspired me to look for pockets of nature in my own backyard, which is in the middle of the city. I plan to explore lots of little parks near me when I get home.

Daily Log

Sunday, August 1: Kettleson Hogsback + Arnold’s Park

Kettleson Hogsback waterfowl area

On Sunday I went to Kettleson Hogsback Waterfowl production area. I took some photos and video, but really wished that I had some sound equipment! I may return to capture some sound in the next year for a gallery show I’m thinking about.

I decided to head into town and visit the Arnold’s Park amusement park area and walk along the boardwalk there. I didn’t manage to get an infamous nutty bar, but I did get a better feel for the culture in the area.

Monday August 2:  Return to Horseshoe Bend

I went back to Horseshoe Bend on Monday to capture more tree trunks for a project I mentioned in my last lab report. I grabbed what I needed, but I also spent time capturing video of grasshoppers. I have very fond memories of grasshoppers jumping on my rural Iowa running routes during the late summers. In August it seemed like there was a constant cascade of grasshoppers along entire routes. Even though I’m sure they destroy everything in their wake, I really love these little guys. The way they move in relation to humans (getting out of our way so they don’t get squished) is ironically relaxing to me.

closeup of a grasshopper

I’m thinking on an interactive nature piece for this future gallery show. I’m planning to use nature’s healing patterns to lead viewers back into the world after viewing some of the artwork in which I share trauma with them. I started working on a p5.js sketch that would emulate grasshoppers jumping, but since math isn’t my #1 talent, I’m still working on figuring out movement along arcs.

Tuesday August 3: Fort Defiance

On Tuesday I went to Fort Defiance hoping to find a longer hiking route than at Horseshoe Bend, but I was disappointed. Instead, I spent time testing an augmented reality experiment. I also noticed these markers along the trail, and it made me think that it could be useful for parks to use augmented reality along with their markers to give people more information about their surroundings.

Marker at Fort Defiance State Park

Wednesday August 4: Artist’s Date + Frog Dinner Party Exhibit

I have been working on the two main methods of The Artist’s Way: morning pages and artist dates. The idea behind artist’s dates is that you have to charm your inner creative by taking yourself on little adventures to places you enjoy. So I decided to drive around the lake in Okoboji, Arnold’s Park, etc. to see if anything enticed me. I ended up back at the record store (shocker, I know) and the guy who runs the shop was there and we had a discussion about the lab and public art. I told him about the exhibitions that Space Saloon was doing that week.

That evening I went to the frog exhibit by Space Saloon with the Roundhouse folks.

Thursday August 5: Kayaking + Emerson Bay

Kayaking on Okoboji animation

On Thursday, I spent time kayaking while I still had a chance (although I kept getting stuck in the algae, yuck!).

Then I went back to Emerson Bay to capture some specific video of the lake and some of the other habitats around there. Again, this is for the nature part of the future gallery show I’m starting to plan out. I’m not totally sure what I’m going to do with the footage, but I figured I should grab it while I was there.

Friday August 6: Thank You!

On Friday I decided to head home a bit early since the weather report called for thunderstorms the next day and I didn’t really want to drive in that. I spent the morning running around making sure I had captured everything I wanted before leaving, and then I made this little thank you to leave around the lab.

Thank you from Calee Cecconi

Project Seedlings

Invasive Species + Data Visualizations as AR / Generative Art

I mentioned that I was testing some augmented reality with this little invasive species idea. I am interested in learning more about augmented reality for the gallery show I’m starting to plan. One of the things I want to do is have a second layer to the artwork that is augmented reality so that there can be interactivity in the gallery if a person chooses to engage with it. I may test this out in a music design exhibition I have coming up as a way to link the viewers to music videos or interviews by the bands whose art I’m featuring.

Anyway, I took my little thistle illustration from last week and popped it into this little augmented reality experiment. It’s hard to tell here because there’s no indication of clicks on the screen, but the user would click on the rotating thistles to activate (or grow) more thistles. It’s a pretty quick sketch meant to help me figure out how best to use augmented reality. I had fun playing with locations for this interaction.

Trauma Trunks

I’m still interested in the symbology of a tree trunk with regrowth in relation to trauma resilience. I found out that there is an artist who created a whole forest of tree trunks to trigger augmented reality of nature art. I don’t want to recreate what she did, but what I learned from her work is that the trunks themselves can trigger the interaction if I decide to use the tree trunks in my work in this way. I was more thinking of a photography project, but I’m still not totally sure what I want to do with the trunks.

While I was at Fort Defiance I tried to capture a super quick AR sketch experiment showing growth on a tree trunk. I don’t think I want to do this since I now know there’s an artist who already did this, and for my purposes, finding and showing tree trunks with interesting regrowth is more important than the idea of regrowth through augmented reality.

Nature Beyond Recognition

brightly colored butterflies on a brightly colored background

While at the lab, I started working on this series of repeat patterns using photography of plants and animals I took around the lab. I’m still fleshing out the ideas but I’m working on a series of large-scale repeat patterns, which could be installed in locations where folks have little access to both art and nature. I plan to show this work in our faculty gallery show this fall at my new job.

Here’s a statement about this piece:

We are in danger of losing more than a third of our known species in the next century. What will nature look like? This piece, and others in the Nature Beyond Recognition series, envisions a future view of nature when humans have altered it beyond recognition—a time when nature may only exist in our collective memory or in our virtual worlds. This series of patterns focuses on endangered and invasive Iowa and Minnesota species, with the pattern format chosen for versatility of future use.

To create this work, I started by altering the “DNA” of images I took of monarch butterflies near the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory using a plain text editor, then layered the glitched butterflies together with mixed physical media, altering layers and colors along the way.

IA LL AR Wayfinding / Info Project

Finally, the marker at Fort Defiance made me think about the experience I had at the lab and how I could help improve it for other folks in the future. I think there’s an opportunity to combine wayfinding with either augmented reality or QR codes to give more information to people around the lab. There is some signage, but I’m sure it’s hard to upkeep. A series of QR codes or triggers for AR would be easier to upkeep, and they could lead users to an up-to-date website or websites for more information.

Anyway, thank you for reading and thanks for the experience!

“Artists and scientists are both asking questions about the world, they’re just doing it in different ways”
Alex Braidwood
Director, Iowa Lakeside Lab Artists-in-Residence Program
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