Category Archives: The Art of Science

Feminalist Science Posters

by Hydrogene (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Hyrdogene generally creates minimalist posters around science-y themes. The set of six she created celebrating women who made a big impact on science and the world is particularly compelling. According to the FAQs, an online store selling the posters will be opening up this summer, hopefully in time for my birthday.

The Art of Science: Ants Are People, Too

Rafael Gomezbarros, Casa Tomada, 2014Photo by David Levene

Rafael Gomezbarros, Casa Tomada, 2014    Photo by David Levene

Ants are crawling over the walls of London’s Saatchi Gallery. No, the cleaners aren’t on strike; the ants are an installation by Colombian artist Rafael  Gómezbarros, part of a group exhibition called Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America.

If you look closely, you will see that the bodies of the ants, each of which is 50 CM (about 19 inches) long, are made up of casts of human skulls in fiberglass and resin.  For the artist, the ants represent  the millions of immigrants traveling the earth in search of a home.  In particular, Gómezbarros  pays tribute to thousands of Colombians who suffered internal displacement and violent deaths in the armed conflicts that have convulsed his country over the past five decades.  His ants have taken over the facades of several important buildings in Colombia, including the National Congress building in Bogotá.

Why ants? It’s easy to see why they work well as a stand-in for the teeming masses of immigrants. Humble, hardworking and capable of building complex social organizations, ants are also unfortunately easy for larger animals to snack on or crush underfoot.  But ants are resilient, too. They are able to “farm” their own foodstuffs, band together to kill much larger species, and create rafts of their own bodies to float in water. Ants are survivors.

Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America is on view at the Saatchi gallery through August 31. You can see photos of the ants crawling on other buildings at Gómezbarros’ website

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The Art of Science: Tagny Duff’s Cryobooks

From The Cryobook Archives, Tagny Duff, 2008-11

From The Cryobook Archives, Tagny Duff, 2008-11

The internet was all a-squeal this week over the revelation that Harvard University’s libraries house a number of books bound in human skin. (Actually, the news that launched a thousand blogposts was that a Harvard-owned volume alleged to be bound in “all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma” was, in fact, bound in sheepskin. ) Horrified and delighted, journalists gleefully explained that “anthropodermic bibliopegy” was once a thing, way back in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Well, it’s still a thing. Canadian artist Tagny Duff undertook a project from 2008-2011 called The Cryobook Archives, in which she used human and animal skin and modern biotechnology to grow “living” covers for handmade books. Duff even used a sort of ink made from a lentivirus to make designs on the book covers, which she displayed in a custom-built cryogenic freezer unit.

Duff explains that her cryobooks, which use skin cells donated by surgical patients and are stitched with surgical suture, are a way of reclaiming knowledge from its disembodied, electronic form.  “We often overlook the fact that information is created from physical bodies” through the study of anatomy and biology.

I’m not sure Harvard’s libraries would be interested in these particular skin-covered tomes. For all the years of study and preparation that went into creating their covers, these books are blank.

Duff blogged extensively about The Cryobook Archives here. You can watch a video of her presenting the work at Dublin’s Science Gallery here.

The Art of Science: So Over the Horizon

Fox, New Zealand, from Caleb Cain Marcus,  A Portrait of Ice

Fox, New Zealand, from Caleb Cain Marcus, A Portrait of Ice

You know how the horizon makes a more or less straight line across every landscape?  I saw a series of art photos of glaciers last night by Caleb Cain Marcus at the National Academy of Sciences that buck the convention. Although he’s shooting landscapes, Marcus messes around with the composition of his photographs so that he eliminates the horizon – you just get craggy bits of ice and then a big expanse of sky.  As the NAS blurb about the show expresses it: “Freed from the horizon, a sense of scale is lost, altering one’s experience of a landscape. It is in this unfamiliar territory that Cain Marcus hopes viewers can fully experience the persona of ice.”

But here’s the weird thing: I saw this artwork just a few days after watching Cosmos, the episode where Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out that, because we’re on a round planet spinning through a constantly moving universe, that line that we see as the horizon isn’t actually there. The line is a lie.

So, in making his pictures of glaciers more abstract by eliminating the horizon, Marcus is actually making them more real. And I think I just blew my own mind.

You can see the show at NAS through July 18 or see more images on Marcus’ website.

The Art of Science: Nathalie Miebach’s Woven Weather

Nathalie Miebach, Changing Waters, 2011

Nathalie Miebach, Changing Waters, 2011

I’ve featured several artists here who incorporate weather data in their work, but nobody who does it with quite the mix of over-the-top exuberance and scientific rigor as Nathalie Miebach.  As Miebach explains, “My work focuses on the intersection of art and science and the visual articulation of scientific observations. I translate scientific data related to astronomy, ecology and meteorology into woven sculptures.”

Yes, woven – the material basis of her art is basketweaving, a highly traditional form not usually used in data visualization.

Miebach hopes that her artwork expands the visual vocabulary of scientific data, moving far beyond charts and graphs.  She says that science teachers were among the first to embrace her work.

“On one side, my work is very didactic, almost like a graph that tells exactly the relationship between variables, a very scientific representation. On the other, it’s a fanciful, magical, crazy expression of weather that still uses data as a source of material, but has crossed a boundary.” (source)

The piece shown above, part of a show called “Changing Waters” looks at the meteorological and oceanic interactions within the Gulf of Maine. Using data from NOAA and GOMOSS buoys within the Gulf of Maine, as well as weather stations along the coast, it explores the seasonal variations of marine life through a colorful swirl of carefully plotted pieces of weaving.

Some of Miebach’s more recent work has incorporated whirling structures that evoke the fairground rides destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, and her latest pieces are accompanied by original music, which is also based on weather and climate data.

You can see more of Nathalie Miebach’s artwork in a number of current and upcoming shows as well as at her website.