Visitors to the TOOLS exhibition at Art Center College of Design's Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery may have a different experience than the show's simple title would lead them to expect. Objects on display are not sleek contemporary designs but rather belong to the worlds of contemporary art, science, and natural history, and can be simultaneously appreciated for their aesthetics and impact on human development, as well as for their utility. The resulting blurred boundaries are the intention of the exhibition's organizers. Co-curated by Williamson Gallery director Stephen Nowlin and Los Angeles artist/writer John O'Brien, TOOLS is the latest in a series of Williamson Gallery exhibitions initiated by Nowlin to challenge traditional categories of presentation and bring together people, artifacts, and object-makers from diverse intellectual disciplines "There are inevitable comparisons created by sheer proximity that cause the viewer to wax poetic about tools and the forms that converge within them," writes O'Brien in his brochure essay on how the exhibition combines the art and science of tools. "Art has been poeticizing Nature for millennia," says Nowlin, "and in the modern era the rhapsodizing of Nature has been replaced by the study of Nature — i.e., science."
TOOLS is Art Center's contribution to a consortium of Pasadena institutions presenting exhibitions, performances, and programs as part of ORIGINS: Art & Ideas 2009, a festival organized by the Pasadena Arts Council (artideasfestival.org). Artists contributing to the exhibition include Janine Antoni, Stephen Berkman, Robert Hudson, Ben Jackel, Nancy Kyes, Tom LaDuke, Michael McMillen, John Millei, Mark Niblock-Smith, Russell W. Porter, Paul Tzanetopoulos, and Gail Wight. NASA/JPL engineer Tom Rivellini is represented by sketches that led to the successful Mars Pathfinder landing in 1997 Ð a remote-sensing tool. In addition to the Autry Center and Carnegie Institution, organizations lending artifacts to TOOLS include Bolt's Antique Tool Museum in Oroville, CA, California Institute of Technology, The Huntington Library, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as private lenders. An Art Center studio class, "Tools and Creativity," is being held in a portion of the gallery, taught by artist Seth Kaufman and designer Randall Wilson, with student projects and process on display as they unfold over the term of the exhibit. A printed brochure for the exhibition features an essay by O'Brien and an introduction by Nowlin, as well as select images for included objects.