What: “Desert Reflections: Water Shapes the West”

When: Opens Saturday, shows through Sept. 29

Where: High Desert Museum, 59800 S. Highway 97, Bend

Cost: Included with museum admission of $17; $14 seniors and college students; $10 kids 3-12; free 2 and under

Contact: highdesertmuseum.org or 541-382-4754

Science and art converge in the High Desert Museum’s new, original exhibit “Desert Reflections: Water Shapes the West,” for which artists accompanied scientists into the field to explore the ways water, yes, shapes the West’s past, present and future.

The show opens Saturday and displays through Sept. 29, with multi-media pieces not only in the Spirit of the West Gallery, but also spilling into other portions of the museum and its grounds.

The idea for “Desert Reflections” was born during a curatorial team meeting a few years ago, said Christina Cid, director of projects at the museum, which brings together curators of art, history and natural history along with exhibits designers.

“We often plan out for years ahead about some of the exhibits that we want to bring in, and in those meetings, we’re really thinking about issues that are important to the High Desert, and we knew this issue thinking about water in the West is absolutely critical,” Cid said. “In one of our planning meetings, in learning about the grant opportunity to commission the artists for pieces, when we figured what was an important topic that we might all highlight, we as a team thought of focusing on this water exhibit.”

The grant Cid was referring to was a 2017 Oregon Community Foundation Creative Heights grant for $100,000.

“The mission with that grant program is to give organizations time and money to take creative risks,” explained Dana Whitelaw, executive director of the nonprofit museum. “It has got to be my favorite grant program because the way they’ve structured it, it does exactly that — we have money and time to do things that we normally wouldn’t have the capacity to accomplish. They’re sort of like our big dream projects.”

In 2016, Eugene-based Harmonic Laboratory dreamed up “Tesla: Light, Sound, Color,” a multi-media stage production about Nicola Tesla, using its own Creative Heights grant. Readers may have caught when it visited Bend’s Tower Theatre in January 2018. That work put Harmonic Laboratory on the High Desert Museum’s radar for “Desert Reflections,” according to animator John Park, a member of the four-person team.

Harmonic Laboratory created two pieces for the new exhibit, including the kinetic sound sculpture “Awash,” which they installed in the hallway outside the Spirit of the West Gallery a little ahead of schedule, in late March — spring break for much of the team, who also teach at University of Oregon.

Harmonic Laboratory partnered with hydrologists and other scientists and joined them on “scientifically minded field trips” to Pelton fish trap, where they learned about the study of salmon, Park said.

“They even got down to the level of the scales themselves, and taking scale samples from some of the salmon,” he said. “We were moved by the idea of kind of the relationship, but also borrowing some of the natural language in this case, the idea of there being scales that can move and ripple on the fish.”

That started to effect their idea of hanging speaker modules, which hang from the ceiling.

“It’s one of those things of just different experiments and moving targets, but we ended on something sort of fish scale-like,” Park said.

Composer Dana Reason, the coordinator of Contemporary Music and Research at Oregon State University, has created a large-scale sound and performance work based on research into water tables. Her contributions include a music installation with a sculptural element by artist Andrew Myers.

“That’s an interactive work between music, some computer technology, live instruments and Andrew Myers … he responds to what we’re creating sonically,” she said.

Reason is also behind an outdoor “water walk,” where “people will sit under a tree, and they literally hear the sonification of some of the data from some of the scientists that I’ve worked with,” she said, explaining how she assigns a note value to the numbers, allowing us to “hear” data.

“We assign a value so we can kind of hear this instead of just read it on a graph,” she said, while adding that she did allow room for aesthetic decisions.

“My goal is to still make it an interesting experience just to listen to, so that you can hear some of the data rambling around, but then maybe you’re just finding a space to think about, ‘Wow, fire really affects environments, and it’s not all negative — it’s positive, too.”

She thinks of it as “an intimate sonic portrait of data,” she said. “It’s still very musical at heart.”

Water data does sound musical, she said.

“Some parts do. And some parts feel kind of slightly quirky: Oh wow, I’m going to repeat this. This number goes on for a little while here, as this condition happened for a while. … There were a few dry years, and here it is, it’s telling me it’s been dry.”

“Desert Reflections” includes an indoor video installation and an outdoor, stream-side display from Jason Graham, Bend’s creative laureate who’s also known as Mosley Wotta, and paintings by Klamath Modoc visual artist Ka’ila Farrell-Smith.

Also included in the exhibit is “Golden,” a painting the museum recently added to its permanent collection. Though not created specifically for “Desert Reflections,” it too highlights how water shapes the landscape. Lavadour is a Walla Walla Tribal member and grew up on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in Eastern Oregon.

“Desert Reflections” delves into the stories of the Great Salt Lake Basin, the Mid-Columbia Basin and the Klamath Basin, Cid said.

“I’m hoping folks can have a deeper understanding of the history of the water in that region, and understand some of the contemporary issues facing each place,” Cid said. “(And) walk away with how we can work together as communities to solve some challenges around the lack thereof or too much water in a region — and that people leave feeling empowered that they can also make a difference.”

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