The art in science: Andrew Ranville reflects on his residency at the MLC

The art in science: Andrew Ranville reflects on his residency at the MLC

I’ve got to switch lenses.

Quite possibly the most dreaded event when in the field, I’ve already spent a few minutes fumbling around with my camera – but the battle between me, the sweat bees, and the humidity is far from over. Until that lens is clicked into place and reveals an unscathed image on the viewfinder, I’m not in the clear.

As I race to cap, clean, and click my lens into place, my trail companion for the day lays his daypack down on the forest floor to get his camera out, and in one fluid motion – not unlike Stephen Curry making a three-pointer – pulls out a 1972 Polaroid SX-70 Alpha I.

No lens change required.

Andrew captures images of the regenerating forest with his Polaroid camera.
Andrew captures images of the regenerating forest with his Polaroid camera.

Andrew Ranville is a different breed of artist. The kind who summits the High Atlas mountain range in Morocco to collect stones for an installation – then repeats the same journey to return the stones to their original location. The kind who packs his bag for an expedition to the Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica to bury treasure – and to raise funds and awareness for the conservation of this fragile marine ecosystem and the pelagic species who call it home. The kind who latches onto the idea of travelling to the regenerating forest of the Peruvian Amazon to find inspiration – and in turn, becomes an artist-in-residence and community innovator for the crees Foundation.

Over the course of four weeks and through extensive exploration of the Manu Learning Centre (MLC) reserve, photographic documentation, and conversations with the on-site community, Andrew was busy assessing the MLC’s current infrastructure and conceptual framework while also creating a vision of their development in the future.

Andrew’s collection of Polaroid photographs.

I sat down with this adventurous artist-explorer streamside to discuss his research, potential plans, and experience of the MLC so far. To listen to the full podcast, click on the audio bar below; alternatively, scroll down further to read excerpts from our conversation.


KL: So what are your thoughts so far on both the MLC, the Manu Learning Centre where we’re stationed, and the jungle?

AR: They’re both really different places, even though one is within the other […] My brief was to look at the different users of this space – this space which is located in an amazing regenerating forest, which is really important as an area to give insight to what happens when man has taken over a landscape and modified it so much. What happens once that environment is let to be resilient and grow back? So, I’m coming to the MLC to look at how the space is being used, see what kind of input I can have through an artistic framework, but also as an arts administrator who has worked in remote locations, maybe make a more holistic framework of that interaction between all those different users.

KL: I know you’re still in the developing stages of your work here, but is it possible for you to give us a clue as to some ideas you’ve had on how you’re going to create unity for us out here?

AR: We’ve had this idea of bringing different groups out that […] for example, maybe an annual or biannual roundtable discussion where you’re bringing architects, designers, conservationists, environmentalists, researchers, scientists, and you have a group of 10 or 12 people who are really leading their field and really thinking about progressive an thoughtful ways of pursuing research in remote locations, pursuing an arts practice in a remote location […] You could host this at the existing MLC, but what if you take them and you put them directly in a situation that elevates their experience even further, both literally and figuratively? So that’s one idea […] Also, infrastructure projects, so the idea of a canopy platform. I’ve been sketching and thinking of ideas that would compliment the Tree Top Manu project, with the possibility of getting researchers up in the canopy to compliment the camera traps that are there and have them be able to wake up in the canopy. It’s the idea of portable platform systems that can move as the science needs to move around the space.

KL: The idea of interpreting the data and observations in a way that a wider audience can understand is a really interesting idea to me.

AR: Take cities for example. You see artists moving into urban spaces and making them desirable – just like scientists are when they go into the field or remote locations and they’re looking for these new species and they’re discovering things that nobody’s ever discovered. So I think basically artists and scientists are really the vanguard for social change […] The more art and science you can get people to engage with, the better off we’re going to be, the more understanding we’re going to have about our planet and about cultures and history.

Text, photos, & audio by Katie Lin; featured Polaroid photos by Andrew Ranville