Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Looking back at 2017: science, art and life

Wunderkammer, interactive multimedia: linocut, collage, wooden box, electronics, sound files, 2017 by Ele Willoughby
With the new year, like many, I often like to look back. I find sometimes you don't see things accumulate or note acheivements. So, briefly, on a personal front, 2017 was a very interesting year. It was challenging, but over all, I'm quite proud. On one hand it's funny to start off talking about the acheivement of being in the running for a job I didn't get, but astronaut is no ordinary job. I was proud that I even had the guts to submit my application in the summer of 2016 for the Canadian Space Agency's job search. Each step of the year-long search, as I continued to advance I was a strange mixture of astonished yet confident that after all, it was something I could learn to do if selected. So I was very proud to be  one of the top 72 people selected from 3772 initial applicants, who were invited to the Astronaut Recruitment Assessment Centre! It was a unique experience; 3 and half days of gruelling mental, psychological and physical assessment, along with a very impressive and fascinating cohort of fellow applicants (only a third of whom were women). I've had so many questions and comments from people since this experience that I didn't expect. People I just met told me they were proud. Parents told me that they followed my progress with their kids, or asked me advice about how to encourage the next generation of potential astronauts. I wouldn't have imagined that even making it that far in their job search could impact people, but I'm humbled that it did and thank you all for your kindness, encouragement and support.

Another new experience this year was running an art gallery! I'm so glad that Emma talked me into taking on the Toronto Etsy Street Team Gallery, because truth is, I think I would have shied away from the financial risk. But it was a great experience and I'm proud of what we pulled off. I curated my first show, Wunderkammer, with a wonderful collection - a cabinet of curiosity in fact, of science art from some favourite and new-to-me artists. I went on to curate and organize shows about Canada, help foster Rebecca Vaughan curate and participate in Love Your Body, curate and participate in a Mesozoic themed the Dinovember show. I was also really pleased to take part in Tosca Terran's UnNatural History show at the gallery, where I showed my entire unnatural print collection.

2017 also some some great collaborations. WWEST's Phylo Women in STEM trading cards came out this spring. Definitely my favourite commission of 2016, was making and submitting five of my portraits of women. I have previously submitted some art for UBC's Dave Ng's earlier project to use trading cards as a natural historian's version of Pokemon. This latest set brings attention to women in science and technology, throughout history, and the hurdles facing women and under-represented groups. He told me he had seen my blog post about the death of physicist, material scientist and archeometry pioneer Ursula Franklin and it encouraged him to include her, as a great scientist, role model and Canadian. As you can see (above), I've also illustrated marine geologist Marie Tharp, physicist Lise Meitner, seismologist Inge Lehmann and proto-computer scientist Ada Lovelace. The sets are available from Phylo and you are even free to download and print your own! 

Because life is odd, the day after I learned that I did not advance to the top 32 astronaut candidates, Anthropologie approached me about collaborating on tee shirts. They loved my 'terms of venery' series of group nouns for animals.  They licensed two of my existing prints, 'An Ostentation of Peacocks' and 'A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies' and commissioned a third work. They wanted my portrait of my beloved, late, great Minouette the cat, but wanted it to fit in the venery series. While a group of cats is often known as a clowder, I remembered that it can also be called a glaring, and I thought that was a perfect combination for her fierce "Stop carving lino and feed me now!" look. I was very excited to work with one of my favourite clothing stores and it was a lovely experience to work with them. I was gratified that they wanted artwork that I had made simply because I wanted to.

 2017 also saw my home, studio and peculiar combination of jobs and interests as the subject of this Toronto Star article. I participated in another Bees (& the Birds) show. I did all the Toronto Etsy Street Team craft shows: the Midsummer Market, Etsy Made in Canada (where I enjoyed playing second fiddle for the first time) and the Christmas Maket. I sold at the One of a Kind Christmas show once again. I had artwork selected for the Leftovers VI Silent Auction, in Boise, Idaho, and 'Life as we knew it' and 'LUNAR' art shows at Art.Science.Gallery in Austin, Texas.

On the home front, our son turned four at the end of November, which means that he was able to start kindergarten in September. This is a big shift and I'm still getting used to it. He's now at school 6 hours a day, which frees me up to have much more freedom and control of my time and schedule and he loves it and is flourishing!

I love most of all that this list is very mixed: art, science, family life, and I'm keeping people guessing. When I was young I thought I had to choose, but I think in 2017 I did a good job of not choosing and being as much of a Renaissance woman as I can. I'm rather enjoying not having to define myself one way. This year once again promises new things and I'm looking forward to seeing what it brings.

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