At the intersection of science and art, one student is working to help people see the world through the eyes of the creatures we share this planet with.
Artist Svea Bruslind may be a lot of things, such as a scholar (she’s an Oregon State University honors student and presidential scholarship recipient with a major in Zoology and a minor in Photography) and former 4-H member (Bruslind grew up on her family’s farm in Lacomb, OR), but one thing she isn’t is afraid to get her hands dirty for her work. From photographing roadkill, buzzards, and bees to wrangling oversized canvases, Bruslind loves viewing the world from a different perspective.
Though she’s fond of and photographs a variety of animals, her current portfolio of work involves the humble, yet crucial, bee. Bruslind’s photographs showcase both what it’s like to see the world with UV vision, as well as how a garden becomes a veritable wonderland when grass and flowers have the perspective of being as large as California Redwoods. Her efforts encourage the viewer to both reconsider the world they blithely walk by every day, as well as inspire consideration and empathy for the creatures quietly working all around us, performing very important ecological jobs–which is reflected in a very fun way through her “Pollinator Bingo” cards.
Svea Bruslind (center) describes her installation during an Open Studio at PMRCAA
The theme of forcing a shift in perspective would be present both in her work and the production of it, which culminated in the opportunity to showcase her latest series at Pine Meadow Ranch’s (PMR’s) ‘open studio’–an event where artists invite the general public to engage with their work in an interactive setting; after listening to presentations, attendees have the opportunity to speak with artists in a casual setting. When asked what it was like to work at the intersection of art and science, Bruslind says that “I’ve been focused more on the scientific aspect and the research aspect and my photography is a minor, and it’s something that’s […] more of a side interest and a passion. And so, for me, it was […] astounding that I was able to merge both of these passions.” Even more surprising? The public’s reaction. “People were receiving it and engaging with it so well, and they were asking so many fantastic questions!” Such as inquiring about the next step of her research or if there were scientific studies she recommended.
While it may seem obvious that the nature of what she photographs is itself a learning experience from a zoological standpoint, physically preparing and presenting her work brought its own unique challenges. Bruslind mentions that she originally envisioned a gridded series of oversized photographs designed to, “…create a garden from the point of view of the bee, and then blow it up to this huge size so that people feel like they are the bee […] to force a perspective shift. So that way, people […gain…] empathy for how the bee experiences the world.”
The answer to what her process is like when creating a new piece is somewhat surprising. To look at her work, one would think that these images were the byproduct of much effort–and they were–but not in post-production. “A lot of my [photographic art] before this […] was either fine art conceptual pieces that I had done as part of my photography minor, [or] nature photography and more documentative; this was an interesting mix of both where I had this concept of a world from the eyes of a bee, but it was also using more documentative. I’m not altering the photos in any way–it’s very much how this garden looks.”
When asked about what the most unique aspect of presenting at PMR was, she is quick to make the connection between how there was no lag between people viewing her work and immediately being able to step out into the natural world, which adds extra impact to her pieces. “Experiencing a new perspective and then [being] able to immediately take that new perspective and apply it […] I wonder how they’re going to see this pasture that [PMR has] and these cows that they have, […and the] pollinator garden.”
It’s hard to Bruslind to choose ‘the most important elements of her work,’ she does hope that every person who views a piece will have a different answer to that question and have their own experience with her work, culminating in them taking away the message that means the most to them on a personal level. However, this isn’t to say that she creates her work without an end goal in mind, because Bruslind was very intentional with what she wanted to convey, and that is the fact that all creatures on this Earth have a different way of experiencing the world. In her own words, “[…] we always come at things with a very anthropocentric view. [Insects and other creatures] might do something that we can identify with [but] they are still an extremely different organism and it’s so beautiful how complex every organism is and how nuanced every organism is. I want people to be aware of, essentially, appreciating that hard work and the complexity in that nuance–being able to recognize that is a different organism and they do experience the world differently than me. We have commonalities, but we also have differences and [must respect] those differences.”
Although still a student as of this article’s initial publication, Bruslind was privileged to be able to present her work at PMR, and is even more privileged to be returning later this year (Autumn 2023). Of her experience collaborating with PMR, she speaks with a deep appreciation of the Ranch’s willingness to take a chance on her this early into her career, acknowledging that, “I’m incredibly happy that they were willing to work with me, and were so generous in how they worked with me because it’s a little bit of a risk and they were willing to take it and I appreciate that.”
She also expressed gratitude for her mentors–fellow artist Jasna Guy and Oregon State University – College of Agricultural & Life Sciences Professor Gail Langellotto, each of whom inspired and encouraged her to take a chance, step outside of her comfort zone, and share her work with the world. Burslind closes out her thank yous by stating how much she valued the support of Ana Varas, PMR’s Arts Projects Coordinator, who helped put her at ease, as Varas’ enthusiasm for her ideas made it more comfortable to navigate the process of discussing her work, challenges, etc.
Soon, not only will she graduate with the first of her planned degrees (she intends to go on to graduate school in the future), she will graduate with a résumé of exhibited work. No matter where one may be at in their career, every artist is expected to tell the story of their journey and creations, and Bruslind is eagerly about to start her next chapter.