Debra Barrera

Rice University
> Debra Barrera

Debra Barrera Barrera Installation 

Asymmetric Seekers, 2015 
Archival ink screen print on wall
Brockman Hall for Physics and Astronomy

Capital Building Fund Site-Specific Commission

Asymmetric Seekers represents the history and evolution of scientific discovery. Culled from images that scientists and students create and work with in the course of their own research, the new permanent installation presents colorful images that each correspond to a specific field of study within physics and astronomy. 

Houston-based artist Debra Barrera and master printmaker Carlos Hernandez created the installation after Barrera’s tenure as an Artist in Residence at the School of Physics and Astronomy. Barrera worked closely with students and faculty to obtain relevant imagery that pertains to ongoing research or to the history of science. From high energy astrophysics to nuclear and particle physics, Barrera researched the history and significance behind each image, transforming the imagery in conversation with Brockman Hall constituents.

The final selections were transformed into exquisitely detailed screen-printed images in partnership with Burning Bones Press master printmakers Carlos Hernandez and Patrick Masterson. The images were screen-printed with ink directly on three walls in the main stairwell of the Brockman Hall for Physics.“My work and residence here at the department of Physics and Astronomy has led to a deeper understanding of what connects artists and scientists.” Barrera said in discussing her work at Rice. “We are ultimately excited by the same idea: making the impossible, possible.”

Barrera’s installation carefully considers not only the type of inquiry that marks the field of physics, but the nature of the building itself, using colors that complement the dichroic glass in the lobby, and drawing a connection with the “all-over” pattern of the Penrose tiling on the windows on the north side of the building.

Of the parallel between artistic and scientific inquiry, Barerra notes: “When most of us look up and see the color blue in the sky, it is that familiar sky blue replicated in crayons and swimming pools. However, scientists aren't satisfied with blue; they want to know what particles or atoms make up the sky and what wavelength of light makes blue, blue. Artists are similar, we aren't satisfied with blue as it is in the sky but how that color can shape a new visual existence we have yet to create.” Barrera explains that one of the most challenging aspects of the installation came in deciding how to plot the disparate images on the wall, each of which comes with its own narrative and significance related to the study of physics. Of the images’ placements, Barrera says that the scientific images, like art itself, “convey both an order and an intrinsic relationship with chaos and chance.” As a result, the installation posits the famous “Pillars of Creation” image next to a visual representation of condensed matter that resembles an undersea mountain range.

The worlds of science and art are not very far apart in Barrera’s mind: “Scientists and artists are both explorers of worlds we can't see or even understand yet, but we hope and strive to create them.” As striking visual evidence of the exciting nature of scientific research, Asymmetric Seekers will provide a new insight into the important work of physicists at Rice.

About the Artist: A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Barrera works in multiple media, including printmaking, drawing and sculpture. With a strong conceptual interest in scientific discovery and transportation via space and time, Barrera often employs the vernacular of travel, and the vessels we use to travel, in much of her work. Barrera earned a B.A. in English and Studio Art at the University of Texas, Austin, and a M.F.A. in Painting at the University of Houston. She has exhibited her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions. Her work was most recently on view in the 2014 exhibition Avalon at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston.  

Photo by Paul Hester