Vis-a-thon 2021

The Transition


Catherine Catrina Nowakowski Doctoral Student, University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography, Biological Oceanography

COLLABORATOR Eunhyung Julie Chung MFA/MA Candidate, Rhode Island School of Design, Sculpture and Teaching+Learning


Emma Hogarth

The Transition is a site-specific sculpture that tells the story of how much marine food webs depending on the small animals at the bottom of the foot web and how climate change affects marine life. Our goal is to show the public the importance of plankton in sustaining the system and how humans are actually connected to them through the food we eat. Both Catherine and Julie are interested in the idea of communicating science with the general public through the interaction of art.


“We shared very similar goals; using art to break down the perceived entry-level to teach and understand science. Together, we were able to take both of our skills and work out how to visually reframe food web data to explore three important concepts.”

Catherine Nowakowski

CATHERINE The most challenging component of the project for me was figuring out how to simplify the number of ideas and concepts into the essential information to tell our story. Julie pushed me to question how I typically approach what is enough detail and data in scientific analysis and to reframe my mindset to what are the important concepts to tell an impactful story. Refining our concepts and ideas took multiple conversations between the two of us as well as feedback from others around what was working and what parts were too complicated. We went from a time series of 50 years down to five data points that highlight the most significant and recent change in our food web and we chose a simple structure over other complex iterations.

“The first design constraint we applied was adjusting the width of each piece to represent the size of the organism and using the height to show how much energy is transferred through the food web. This approach creates an inverted triangle shape that feels unstable; that dynamic accomplishes our second goal of fostering an appreciation for how the smallest organisms are supporting the system above them, and are therefore important to all involved despite their size.”

JULIE Since I didn’t have much background knowledge in science, it took a while to understand how the marine food web works. Although the process of coordinating ideas was challenging, that gap was meaningful and inspiring because it pushed the limits of our thoughts further, which led us to come up with more original ideas. Finally, we decided to focus on the inverted relationship between the size of the marine animals and their energy transferred to the higher food web.

“Although we tried to match the amount of ink (energy) with the actual data, we found that the more interesting results were produced, the less we feared experiments and failures.

In science, most of everything is under control. But in art, sometimes you have to be open to unexpectedness, which can lead you to more exciting outcomes. And in science, it is crucial to convey as accurate and detailed information as possible. However, in art, it is essential to give impactful ideas to viewers. During the process, we have noticed that science and art can lead to results far more creative and beyond imagination when we can fill the gap while respecting each other's differences rather than one subordinated to the other.”

Eunhyung Julie Chung

Final Video

CATHERINE I am excited to see how this sculpture interacts with the public and to learn what design and concept changes can be applied in future iterations to further accomplish our goal of engaging board audiences in nuanced environmental dynamics.

“The ocean has always been my first and most important source of inspiration throughout my life and getting to explore it through the lens of art and science have been equally significant in building my appreciation for how complex and beautiful it is. As a Ph.D. student in science, I have made a commitment to diving deep into the mechanisms and processes behind how it all works. And while that commitment is a special thing, it has often felt very unbalanced from where my initial motivation for doing research originated, out on the water and in art classes full of ocean life.

Throughout school, I have often been told to put art on the back burner, or have had it laughed off entirely, and to put my head down and focus on math and science. Vis-a-Thon is one of the first times I have had a dedicated and supported space to bring that balance back into my work with the ocean. By collaborating on a team and participating in a larger program, Vis-a-Thon has provided an example for what it looks like to bring artists and scientists together in an academic context and the vast variety of results our combined efforts can produce.”

Catherine Nowakowski

Tools Used in the Project

Smooth-On Crystal Clear Resin Alcohol Ink


© The Transition, 2021

This material is based upon work supported in part by the National Science Foundation under EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement #OIA-1655221.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.