A new way of viewing science: Intro to bioart

I was unsure of what this course was going to be covering but after reviewing all of the material I am pleasantly surprised that I will be learning about the cross-bridging of two disciplines instead of using one as a mechanistic tool to explore the other. Thus far in my career, I have relatively strong foundational knowledge of science and biotechnology but limited understanding of art and bioart. Working in a biomedical research laboratory at UCLA, I produce many pieces of data (gel products, blots, immunofluorescence imagines, immunohistochemistry staining’s) that I considered beautiful but never merited them as art forms. Retrospectively, I can appreciate the pieces that I created not only as scientific findings but as a form of art that can be appreciated for more than its scientific merits. One of my favorite pictures is the first time I performed immunofluorescent staining.

(Immunofluorescence of cancer cells by Mona Chatrizeh)

This idea of having a dual purpose of reporting a scientific fact and also being a visual representation of art brings to mind a peer-reviewed paper that was discussed in one of my MCDB classes called “Pictures in cell biology: squaring up to the cell-shape debate” by the laboratory of Donald Ingber. In biology, cells are known to have a characteristic round or oval shape. With the new knowledge that cells will not grow on a dish that has not been coated with extracellular matrix, the lab was able to manipulate cells into adopting a square shape. 

(image from "Pictures in cell biology: squaring up to the cell-shape debate " by laboratory of Donald Ingber retrieved from Cell Journal) 

I initially thought that any visual representations of biology in a form that possessed some esthetic qualities would qualify it to be labeled as bioart but learned from the videos that the field goes beyond just beautiful visual representations. Joe Davis was a particularly fascinating person to learn about. His projects elicit a meaning behind science that I had never thought of or explored. I work with bacteria in the laboratory sometimes in order to force them to make a large quantity of a specific for me but have never before thought of them as something more than slaves of protein production. Joe Davis showed engineered a system where he was able to make the sound frequencies emitted by bacteria audible. Davis explored an idea that scientist largely ignore in the laboratory and that is that the organisms we work with are living and have a range of phenomenon that go unnoticed.  

(image of Bacteria Radio by Joe Davis retrieved from newscientist.com)

His other projects focusing on reducing the map of the Milky Way to roughly four thousand base pairs and implanting it into the ear of a mouse or sending encoded bacteria in space are much larger projects that I believe has never before been thought of. Overall, I’m astonished by the way Davis investigates areas of biology and life that have been for the large part ignored. I’m not surprised to see that other artists and biologists have followed in Davis’s footsteps of using biology to create a new form of art. This field has become so popular as a whole institution, Symbiotica, has formed in support of fostering bioart. Symbiotica’s piece “Fish and Chips” combined the very technical and mechanical component of monitoring the neural network of fish to the very artistic representation of art in using the information to create a physical drawing. I hope throughout the course, I will be able to further be exposed to the various ways bioartists have been able to extrapolate and think about model organisms and science the way biologists haven’t. 

 

Citations

Hussain, Zareena. “Science as Art Unites Disciplines”. MIT: The Tech, http://tech.mit.edu/V120/N26/bioartists.26f.html. Accessed 9 April, 2017.

Ingber, D., et al. “Squaring up to the cell-shape debate” Cell Biology, http://www.cell.com/trends/cell-biology/abstract/S0962-8924(99)01551-2. Accessed 9 April, 2017.

“MEART-SymbioticA’s Fish & Chips”. Art and Electronic Media, http://artelectronicmedia.com/artwork/meart-symbioticas-fish-chips. Accessed 9 April, 2017.

McKenna, Phil. “Joe Davis: The mad scientist of MIT?” New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2012/03/the-mad-scientist-of-mit.html. Accessed 9 April, 2017.

Reder, Kimo. “Joe Davis’ ‘Microvenus’ as molecular muse”. Jacket 2, http://jacket2.org/commentary/joe-davis-microvenus-molecular-muse. Accessed 9 April, 2017.