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Seekers of What is Lost

Paleontologist Michael Novacek

March 7, 2005 — People seeking to restore the past – a fossil hunter, an artist reviving a lost language and a novelist recounting a story – will deliver keynote lectures and appear on National Public Radio’s “Science Friday” during the March 24-26 Utah Symposium in Science & Literature at the University of Utah.

“Some Re-Assembly Required: Restoration and Human Production in Images, Words and Bones” is the theme of the symposium, which is designed to explore reciprocal influences among the sciences, arts and humanities.

Keynote speakers will be novelist Leslie Forbes at 7 p.m. MST Thursday March 24, artist Rachel Berwick at 7 p.m. Friday March 25 and paleontologist Michael Novacek at 10 a.m. Saturday March 26. Those lectures will be held in the Gould Auditorium of the university’s Marriott Library.

The three keynoters will appear jointly at the same location on Friday March 25 for a live broadcast of National Public Radio’s “Science Friday” show moderated by Ira Flatow via radio hookup from New York City. Those attending the broadcast must be in Gould Auditorium no later than 12:30 p.m. MST for the “Science Friday” show, which will run from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. MST.

This is the third Symposium on Science & Literature sponsored by the university, and the third to have its keynote speakers appear on a live “Science Friday” broadcast. Other activities during the symposium include an installation of Berwick’s art, panel discussions and a reading of Forbes’ radio play “Humboldt’s Last Word.”

The symposium is free and open to the public, but space is limited so advance registration is encouraged. Only those who have pre-registered will be guaranteed admittance to the “Science Friday” broadcast. For details and to print a mail-in registration form, see: Or register by calling JoAnn Murray at (801) 581-7236.

Free public parking for symposium events will be available in the parking lot located east of Rice-Eccles Stadium and south of South Campus Drive.

News media wishing to cover the symposium should contact Katharine Coles, the symposium’s co-director.

What it’s All About

Coles, a poet and an associate professor of English, says the symposium’s theme is “restoration – our hedge against time, our effort to believe we can understand the past, perhaps even relive it as it was. Through it, we try to bring back into presence what is lost. But is restoration an illusion or a reality? Can we ever bring back what is gone?”

The keynote speakers are all “seekers after what is lost,” says Coles, and will “talk about loss and recovery – activities crucial to the making of science and art, to our understanding of ourselves and the world:”

  • Paleontologist Michael Novacek, is senior vice president and provost of science, and curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He has led expeditions to Mexico, Chile, Yemen and Mongolia in search of fossil dinosaurs and mammals. He is author of “Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs” and “Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Other Fossils from Montana to Mongolia.”
  • Artist Rachel Berwick, an associate professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, has sought to recreate what is lost through her remarkable installations and exhibits on the Tasmanian tiger, parrots that speak the language of a vanished South American tribe, extinct passenger pigeons and a fish – the coelacanth – that was thought to be extinct but later found alive. “Her celebrated ‘May-por-é’ enclosed live parrots in a translucent cylinder, backlit into shadows and chattering in strange syllables,” according to the school. “She had taught the parrots to speak the few known words of the lost Maypure people of South America, who had been massacred, but passed their vocabulary on through their pet parrots.”
  • Writer Leslie Forbes dropped out of her physics education, Canadian politics and film school and then went to work as a designer for Vogue magazine until she tired of fashion. She then became a designer for the British Broadcasting Corp. and wrote award-winning food and travel books before turning to fiction in 1995. She wrote the novels “Bombay Ice,” “Fish, Blood & Bone” and “Waking Raphael,” as well as a radio play about Berwick’s parrots, “Humboldt’s Last Word.”

Coles says the common theme of the keynoters is: “Can we look at traces of the past – the scatter of bones, the words sounded out on a yellowed page, the flight of parrots speaking into shadows – and from those traces recover the lost thing that left them? And if we cannot really restore anything to what it was, what is the point of restoring it at all?”

The symposium is supported by the University of Utah’s Office of the Vice President for Research, College of Humanities, Department of English, Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, Utah Museum of Natural History and KUER-FM; and by “Science Friday,” the Utah Humanities Council, the Utah Arts Council, Salt Lake Art Center and the King’s English Bookshop.

The Symposium Schedule (all times MST)

Thursday March 24

  • 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Opening reception for Rachel Berwick’s art installation, “A Vanishing,” Salt Lake Art Center, 20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City. Berwick’s installation is a tribute to the passenger pigeon, which went extinct in 1914. “A Vanishing” includes 550 amber casts of passenger pigeons suspended on thin brass rods. Stage lights make the bird casts glow but also cast their shadows and those of the bars on surrounding walls. (This is the only off-campus event. Afterward, carpool to campus or take TRAX departing Temple Square at 6:28 p.m. and arriving at South Campus station at 6:46 p.m.)
  • 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Registration. Badge pick-up for pre-registrants. Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.
  • 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Keynote lecture by Leslie Forbes. Invisible Idiots. How collisions with the nucleus of another discipline (science, art, literature or pizza-making) may help to produce newly charged questions about restoration. Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.

Friday March 25

  • 8:45 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Registration. Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.
  • 9:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Concurrent panels:
    — Articulate Objects: The Language of Artifacts. Panelists are Craig Dworkin, associate professor of English, University of Utah; Madelyn Garrett, rare books curator, Marriott Library, University of Utah; and Fletcher Gross, professor of mathematics, University of Utah. Fine Arts Classroom 2220, Marriott Library.
    — Life as a Worm: Memory and the Fragmentary Nature of Experience. Panelists are Monisha Pasupathi, assistant professor of psychology, University of Utah; Villu Maricq, associate professor of biology, University of Utah; and Jennifer Sinor, assistant professor of English, Utah State University. Room 1715 Marriott Library.
  • 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Concurrent panels:
    — What’s Forever For? Extinction and Preservation in Life, Language and Stone. Panelists are Lyle Campbell, professor of linguistics and director of the Center for American Indian Languages, University of Utah; Chris Cokinos, assistant professor of English, Utah State University; and Tony Ekdale, professor of geology and geophysics, University of Utah. Fine Arts Classroom 2220, Marriott Library.
    — Stories We Tell about the Stories We Tell: The Science of History and the Historical Sciences. Panelists are Glenn Olsen, professor of history, University of Utah; Pierre Sokolsky, professor and chair of physics, University of Utah; and Mauricio Mixco, professor of linguistics, University of Utah. Room 1715 Marriott Library.
  • 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Lunch break.
  • 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Keynote speakers Forbes, Berwick and Novacek in a panel discussion titled Some Re-Assembly Required for a live broadcast of NPR’s “Science Friday.” Panelists will discuss restoration as it occurs in the art gallery, between the pages of a novel or while seeking fossils in the Mongolian desert. Only symposium registrants will be guaranteed admission; others will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis as long as seats are available. Please arrive by 12:30. Doors will be locked during the live broadcast. Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.
  • 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Breakout sessions:
    — Past and Presence: The Role of the Museum in Preservation and Restoration. Panelists are Michael Novacek, American Museum of Natural History; Scott Sampson, associate professor of geology and geophysics, University of Utah; and Sarah George, director of the Utah Museum of Natural History. Utah Museum of Natural History, University of Utah.
    — Field trip to Salt Lake Art Center, 20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City. Salt Lake Art Center staff members will be available to answer questions about Rachel Berwick’s installation “A Vanishing.” (Carpool or take TRAX, departing South Campus station 2:22 p.m., arriving Temple Square at 2:40 p.m.)
  • 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Keynote lecture by Rachel Berwick. The Language of Loss. A visual artist talks about process and product. Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.

Saturday March 26

  • 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Keynote lecture by Michael Novacek. Restoring a Lost World: To be a Mammal in the Age of Dinosaurs. Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.
  • 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Roundtable discussion. Re-Assembling Ourselves. Keynote speakers respond to questions from moderator Katharine Coles, audience members and each other. Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.
  • 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Workshop reading of Leslie Forbes’ radio play, “Humboldt’s Last Word.” Gould Auditorium, Marriott Library.