Performance artist Jodi Lomask discusses her Capacitor Lab, a novel conceptual space where artists, scientists, designers, engineers and philosophers exchange ideas and information leading to the creation of new performance pieces. Lomask spoke at both BHSU and the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City this week.
For artistic director and choreographer Jodi Lomask, it is the mysteries of the world that inspire her work, and the creative minds of scientists and artists that collaborate to unravel those mysteries.

Lomask brought her unique perspective on art and science to the Black Hills State University campus earlier this week.

“I take a little broader look at dance than some of my peers,” she said during her talk at the Pangburn Hall Black Box Theatre.

Through her dance company Capacitor, Lomask designed a novel conceptual space – “The Capacitor Lab” – where artists, scientists, designers,engineers and philosophers exchange ideas and information leading to the creation of new performance pieces.

“As an artist interested in the big questions tackled by scientists, I needed to create a space where artists and scientists could easily share information,” said Lomask who considers herself a creative problem maker. “I am mining their world for interesting images. I want to understand something about the way things work and in doing so my mind generates images that help me understand. These new images become my artwork. So, science is my provocateur.”

Lomask has been creating full evening shows through her collaboration with scientists since 2002. She has created five shows with the sixth Capacitor Lab beginning in January. To give audience members a sense of the end result of the collaboration, Lomask showed short videos of each of her troupe’s Capacitor Lab performances.

“I’ve created shows originating from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the forest canopy, through the deep earth and into outer space,” she said.

In the Capacitor Lab, Lomask teaches her performers to carefully study the motion and behaviors of animals and plants, layers of earth and the forces of space. “I want them to become what we are studying so they can have a new experience, a new feeling and locate a new aspect of themselves,” she said.

The Lab also provides a creative outlet for the scientists. “Scientists become creatively invigorated and become better communicators when they need to explain their work outside of their field,” she said. “They also get to consider their research from another perspective, see it reflecting in new ways which leads to potential creative breakthroughs for them.”

During the labs, the performers completely engulf themselves in the research. For their “Biome” show which focused on the world’s dense forests, the performers set up remote labs in the forest areas of Washington state and Costa Rica.

“Physical engaging with the environment we hoped to embody on stage made our process effortless,” she said. “It felt as if the show was designing itself.”

Biome was the lab’s first project with an environmental initiative, Lomask said.

In their most recent show “Okeanos,” the performers spent two years deepening their relationship with the ocean by diving with marine biologists and oceanographers. They also shot underwater footage.

The “Okeanos” performance was the first time narration of the collaborating scientists was incorporated into the score, Lomask said, providing for a more straight forward goal of inspiring and educating audiences about the ocean and ocean conservation.

In the next lab, which is in the concept phase, performers will be working with neuroscientists on what the brain looks like when it is in a creative state. In “Synaptic Motion,” scans of the brain will be taken during three different stages of the same segment of choreography, Lomask said.  In January, Lomask will have her brain scanned as she choreographs a piece for a group of San Francisco ballet dancers. Another scan will be taken of the ballerinas as they learn the choreographed dance. The final brain scan will be taken of an audience member who is observing the dance.

“We will hopefully be able to project the scan live as part of the performance,” Lomask said.

Lomask said the collaborations have brought a new understanding for her, the performers and the scientists. “Both scientists and artists are attracted to mystery, to the unknown,” she said. “They both have to look starkly at the fluke elements of what they know and understand and move from there.”

Inspired by Lomask’s work, Dr. Peggy Norris, deputy directorfor education and outreach for the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake, said last night she hoped to start a community movement to have a science and art festival in the future.

Sponsors for the event included BHSU, BHSU University Foundation, Rapid City Arts Council, Dr. Brian Schwartz, and the National Science Foundation. Lomask’s appearance, and similar events that involve scientific exploration, are facilitated through a partnership with Sanford Underground Research Facility.