Building bridges between engineering and visual arts

Posted on Monday, May 13, 2019

Victoria Rodgers and Emily Janek with their sculpture made from recycled water bottles.

Visual arts students Victoria Rodgers and Emily Janek with the sculpture called Wave of Consciousness that they created with engineering students Ziad Salameh and Abidemi Salami.

By Leah Geller

An innovative new collaboration at uOttawa brings aspiring artists and engineers together to create a cross-disciplinary project with a purpose.

“Art and engineering students have a lot more in common that I thought,” said Ziad Salameh, a first-year engineering student who took part in the first such collaborative course in the Winter 2019 semester. “In some ways, we speak a different language, but I found we were very similar in our design process and ambitions.”

Victoria Rodgers, Ziad Salameh and Emily Janek with their sculpture made from recycled water bottles.

From left: Victoria Rodgers, Ziad Salameh and Emily Janek working on Wave of Consciousness.

Once a week, Salameh and his fellow students in Engineering Design (GNG1103) met up in a common lab with students in the visual arts course Sculpture and Concept (ART2926). The two groups, whose paths might otherwise never cross, formed small teams and worked together to brainstorm their assignment for the semester. The task was to create an interactive sculpture using 80% recycled material, which included a kinetic component and communicated a message.

STEAM projects

Professor Chantal Rodier was instrumental in bringing students from the two faculties together. She is also artist-in-residence at uOttawa's Faculty of Engineering for STEAM projects, which combine the arts (“A”) with the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“For the past two years, I’ve been working with the engineering faculty to integrate art into their curriculum,” she said. “Last year, we had summer internships, where engineering students were joined by art students to create two full-scale installations, now housed in the STEM building.

“That internship was so successful, we decided to create this winter course. With the collaboration of professors Jennifer Macklem (visual arts) and Karen Taylor (engineering) , we designed and delivered an art/engineering course. We also integrated a social innovation component by bringing in Recycl’art Gatineau, an organization that encourages artists to work with recycled materials. Recycl’art will include the students’ work in their touring exhibit this summer.”

A close-up of recycled water bottles used in the sculpture.

Wave of Consciousness : close-up

Using recycled water bottles and chicken wire, Salameh worked with fellow engineering student Abidemi Salami and visual arts students Victoria Rodgers and Emily Janek to create a sculpture focused on the state of the oceans. They called it Wave of Consciousness and integrated LED strips and Arduino software to make it kinetic and interactive.

Their sculpture won second place at the Venture Initiative Showcase on campus and was included in the Digital Tour exhibit at the Ottawa Art Gallery. The team is now in discussions about displaying a full-scale version of Wave of Consciousness on Parliament Hill for Environment Day on June 5 and would like to enter it into public art competitions in the future.

A common goal

“It was a very interesting experience,” Rodgers said. “As the course went along, we started helping each other on different elements, even if they were traditionally out of our sphere. Eventually, we were no longer ‘artists’ and ‘engineers,’ but rather a group of individuals sharing our ideas, working toward a common goal.”

For Salameh, creating something that expresses his passion for the environment, while building his communication and management skills, made the collaborative course “100% worthwhile.”

“Hands down, it was my favourite class this year,” he said. “It was so great working with people with different mindsets. It’s going to help me a lot in the future, as I enter the real world and work with people from many different backgrounds.”

Five men and two women, smiling, stand in a classroom.

From left: Gaston Therrien (Recycl’art Gatineau president), Emily Janek, Ziad Salameh, Pierre Huot (Recycl’art vice-president), Abidemi Salami, Victoria Rodgers and Denis Marceau (Recycl’art administrator).

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