Bycatch –The Complexities of Shrimp Trawling in the Gulf of California: A collaboration between Maria Johnson and Eric Magrane

Johnson and Magrane in front of Bycatch video installation at University of Arizona Museum of Art, February 2017, courtesy of Maria Johnson and Eric Magrane; photo courtesy of Gina Compitello, University of Arizona Museum of Art

Gavenus, Erika, Johnson, Maria, Magrane, Eric | May 25, 2017

You walk in and find your friend already seated at a bar table near the back of the room. As you approach you note that they have gone ahead and ordered some glasses of wine and beautiful shrimp cocktails. You pull up a stool and prepare to dig in, but notice something unexpected –a large installation on the wall is playing a video. As you watch, you realize the video is showing the process of shrimp trawling in the Gulf of California. The process behind the shrimp so elegantly displayed before you. A process so rarely considered, shared, or depicted –something it has in common with many of our food systems.

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The Implications of Isolation: A Collaboration Between Heather Green and Taylor Edwards

Edwards, Taylor, Gavenus, Erika, Green, Heather | May 18, 2017

A chuckwalla in La Cholla, March 2017 courtesy of Heather Green & Taylor Edwards

Fine artist and educator Heather Green, has teamed up with herpetologist and geneticist, Taylor Edwards, for the 6&6 Collaboration. Forged by the Next Generation Sonoran Desert Researchers network (N-Gen,, 6&6 is a collaboration between artists and scientists to explore the patterns and processes of the Sonoran Desert and Gulf of California. Green and Edwards started the collaboration from scratch –with lots of ideas and concepts, but no tangible project in mind. Geographically, they narrowed in on Bahía La Cholla, an area they are both familiar with and in which Green has worked extensively. “We went about a year ago down to Cholla Bay along the Gulf of California and examined all of the different biomes that comprise the bay. We were sort of thinking that we might get into something marine.”

As is often the case, nature had other plans. During that same field visit as they hiked along the periphery of a small mountain Edwards and Green spotted some chuckwalla (a large lizard primarily found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico). Despite years exploring and working in the region, Green had never seen a live chuckwalla in the area, only skeletal remains: “I’ve always had an interest in trying to find a chuckwalla, and never in all my years of going down had I ever seen one before.”

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The Unusual Form of Diaphanous Plants: A collaboration between Mark Dimmitt and Charles Hedgcock

Dimmitt, Mark, Gavenus, Erika, Hedgcock, Charles | May 11, 2017 | Baja elephant trees (Bursera microphylla) by Mark Dimmitt

Have you ever tried looking for shade in the desert only to find that the plants are unable to fully block the intense sunshine? What might feel like a particularly unkind slight in your time of desperation, is actually an incredible adaptation of some desert plants. Iain Robertson, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington, first recognized this property of desert plants in the mid-1990s and began using the term diaphanous plants to describe them. Unlike plants from wetter habitats that boast leafy, dense canopies, diaphanous plants have such sparse stems and foliage you can often see right through them. In a land of intense sunlight and limited water, diaphanous plants have adapted to minimize transpiration and sun exposure. In adapting to their extreme conditions these plants are largely unique to the desert and hard to find in more forgiving systems. But in the Sonoran Desert they thrive, their odd forms defining the landscape.

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Stopping For Pozos: A Collaboration Between Ben Wilder and Ben Johnson

Gavenus, Erika, Johnson, Ben, Wilder, Ben | Image by Ben Johnson

Driving along the highway through northwestern Mexico’s Gran Desierto you might not notice the pozos dotted amongst the seemingly endless sand dunes. Most drivers don’t. Yet these pozos provide fresh water critical to a diversity of life. Historically, pozos were central to the physical and cultural nourishment of the people of the area as well. Now, most people just drive by unaware of these incredible sources of water and life.

Ben Wilder, the acting Director of The Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill and a Research Scientist in desert ecology and botany from the University of Arizona, and Ben Johnson, a visual artist and curator from Tucson, Arizona, do not drive by. Wilder and Johnson are working together through the 6&6 Project and have chosen to focus their work on the pozos.

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6&6 A Science-Art Collaboration: Exploring the patterns and processes of the Sonoran Desert and Gulf of California

Gavenus, Erika, Kapoor, Maya L. | April 27, 2017

Punto Cirio | Image by Maria Johnson

What do deserts bring to mind for you? For some they are stark. Unforgiving. Isolating. For others they embody resilience. Strength. Ingenuity.

The Sonoran Desert encapsulates all of this and more. Located in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico, the desert landscape dramatically abuts the rich marine systems of the Gulf of California and Pacific Ocean. Beauty comes forth in the desert’s forms and the shadows they cast, in its repeating lines, in its subtly changing hues, in the glimpses of life that persist against its harsh backdrop.

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  1. Punto Cirio
  2. Initial Meeting