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New Mexico State University

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Students examine Rio Grande through visual imagery

Joyce Cutler-Shaw, whose work has been exhibited internationally, is helping students at New Mexico State University bridge the worlds of art and engineering through a new course offered this semester in visual imagery. Cutler-Shaw, along with Civil Engineering Professor Phil King and College of Art Professor Nick Naughton, are collaborating to offer an interdepartmental course focused on developing a visual interpretation of the Rio Grande.



Joyce Cutler-Shaw, an artist of intermedia, has exhibited her work internationally since 1972. Her works include drawings, installations, public commissions and artists' books.

"Students will be exposed to the vast engineering perspective of the Rio Grande, including the river's hydrology, cultural and legal aspects, and habitat or lack of habitat," King said. Coursework will include classroom presentations on the river as well as field trips.

The students will create visual interpretations of what they learn about the river in artists' books, unique one-of-a kind collections of various works in the form of book-like objects.

"Art is dependent upon content. Unless you have meaningful content, how do you proceed?" Cutler-Shaw asked. "This is a perfect opportunity. The river is a wonderful subject - very complex. It will be challenging for these students to find forms to express their ideas. The visual arts are very helpful in communicating technical information."

Cutler-Shaw, an artist of intermedia, has exhibited her work internationally since 1972. Her works include drawings, installations, public commissions and artists' books.

"The national reputation of the University's College of Engineering, particularly in the field of water research, was a major attraction for me. This course provides a wonderful opportunity to bring together my work in the visualization of ecological subjects with the expertise of Dr. Phil King - something so vital to southern New Mexico," Cutler-Shaw said.

King, associate professor of civil engineering, said "students should gain a sophisticated comprehension of the river through the resources of the engineering perspective. The issues are so complex that it's naturally interdisciplinary. It's the perfect bridge to barriers between art and technology." King specializes in water resources and agricultural engineering.

Naughton said the class will offer students a new set of tools to work with, beyond the abstract concepts. "I hope the artists' books will be a reflection of what the students have learned about the engineering aspects of the river and be a personally driven expression of their relationship with the river." Naughton uses an array of media, including artists' books, to address various continuing political struggles in his work.

The students' artist books will be displayed with historic books, photographs and maps from the extensive Rio Grande Archives of the University's Special Collections Library in a section of Joyce Cutler-Shaw's September 2009 Art Gallery exhibition. Her exhibit, titled "Of Water and the River: Meditations on the Rio Grande," was inspired by journeys along the river from Elephant Butte Dam to the Mexican border. Included in the exhibit are works from Cutler-Shaw's "Water of the Nations" project of 1982 in honor of the United Nations first "Water Decade." Cutler-Shaw's 1982 UN Project, titled "Waters of the Nations/Messages from the World", was projective of the United Nations proclaiming the years 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action, with the goal of bringing clean water and adequate sanitation to the world's people. Cutler-Shaw's project featured a melting word sculpture carved of ice, which spelled SURVIVAL. Further information is at http://joycecutlershaw.com/