Some Re-Assembly Required: Restoration and Human Production in Images, Words, and Bones

In Mongolia, a paleontologist raises the bones of an early mammal and fits them back together, imagining what they might have looked like under a living skin.

In New York, an artist rediscovers a lost manuscript, an early explorer's transcription of the language of a lost South American tribe, a language he learned from its only remaining speaker, an ancient parrot. She acquires two parrots of her own and teaches them to speak the words preserved on Humboldt's pages.

In London, a novelist who writes about everything from forensic anthropology to restoration ecology is working on a radio play about the parrots and the artist. As she writes, she is working with the artist herself to bring her drama onto the page and, eventually, into living voice, working to restore the events of the artist's own restoration, to present them as they might have happened.

It's the nature of the world that nearly everything, it seems, is eventually lost to time. Entire species of animals. Plants that might have brought us a little beauty or medicinal cures to any number of diseases. Manuscripts by Ptolemy. Horoscopes by Kepler. Our words. Our paintings. Our office keys. Texts sacred and profane. Any number of items that might have been useful, or merely interesting. Our bones. Our very selves. Even when we examine the stars, we are looking deep into the past, into what those bodies were when the light reaching our eyes departed light years earlier. Even our best maps are representations of what was, bearing more or less resemblance to what is now.

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? 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 any thing to what it was, what is the point of restoring it at all?

The writer working on a radio play in London, the artist teaching parrots a lost language in New York, the paleontologist digging up the earliest mammals to stalk the plains of Mongolia: these are novelist Leslie Forbes, artist Rachel Berwick, and paleontologist Michael Novacek. They will come together for the Utah Symposium in Science and Literature, along with other seekers after what is lost­--linguists in search of the lost word, mathematicians seeking any lost theorem, anthropologists working to restore the singular story of a murdered child or the larger story of the development of the human race. Please join us as we talk about loss and recovery, activities crucial to the making of science and of art, to our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Leslie Forbes

After dropping out of England's Royal College of Art without the Masters in Film and Design she had dropped out of studying physics and politics in Canada to get, Forbes won a talent contest at Vogue, where she worked as a designer until she couldn't stand fashion any more. She then became a designer for BBC-TV (once constructing a life-size working robot out of pasta) and the author of award-winning food/travel books including Table in Tuscany. A regular presenter/writer since 1990 of BBC radio documentaries, Forbes turned to fiction in 1995, when she wrote the internationally acclaimed thriller Bombay Ice, which wove Chaos Theory into a Bollywood remake of Shakespeare's Tempest. Her equally-acclaimed second and third novels, Fish, Blood & Bone and Waking Raphael (which 2003 Booker Prize chairman John Carey called "pretty well perfect"), also engage the ways in which science and art speak to each other. She is as involved with political and free-speech issues as she is with the relationship between art and science, and her writing is deeply inspired by her work as a volunteer "mentor" with refugee writers at the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture.

Rachel Berwick

The Tasmanian tiger, known to us only through bone fragments and the brief 1920s film that documented its vanishing. A language recovered from an ancient parrot taught to speak it by a long-dead member of a vanished South American tribe. The Coelacanth, a fish believed long extinct but rediscovered in this century, a living fossil. These are among the losses restored through Rachel Berwick's remarkable installations and exhibits. In her work, which relies on media as diverse as video, resin, bone fragments, and living birds, Berwick has long focused on questions of temporality and extinction, using a lens at once scientific and personal to consider our drive to collect and to recollect. Her work has appeared widely in exhibitions including the 26th Bienal de Sao Paolo, Brazil; the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France; the 7th International Istanbul Bienal; the Serpentine Gallery in London; and, a one-person show at Brent Sikkema (November '04), the gallery that represents her. She is an Associate Professor and the head of the Department of Glass at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Michael Novacek

Dr. Michael Novacek has led paleontological expeditions to Baja California, the Andes Mountains of Chile, the Yemen Arab Republic, and the Gobi Desert of Mongolia in search of fossil dinosaurs and mammals. The Mongolian expeditions mark the first return of a western scientific team to the country in over sixty years, and they have received worldwide scientific and public attention for their spectacular findings. He is the author of more than 150 titles, including articles in the international scientific journals Science and Nature. In addition to his extensive academic publications, he has authored two popular books about his Gobi and other expeditions, Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs and Time Traveler (each book was recognized by the New York Times as a "Notable Book" for its year), and he contributes to Natural History, Scientific American, Smithsonian, and Time. He has lectured for the Nobel Foundation, the American Museum of Natural History, the Explorers' Club (where he is a Fellow), the National Geographic Society, and many universities and scientific societies. He is currently Senior Vice President and Provost of Science and Curator of Paleontology the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Panel Discussions

ARTICULATE OBJECTS: The Language of Artifacts.

LIFE AS A WORM: Memory and the fragmentary nature of experience.

WHAT'S FOREVER FOR? Extinction and preservation in life, language, and stone.

STORIES WE TELL ABOUT THE STORIES WE TELL: The science of history and the historical sciences