Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Art of Science: Radical Elements

Grace Harbin Wever, Iridium - My Darkness to Light II, 2013, Mixed Media

Grace Harbin Wever, Iridium – My Darkness to Light II, 2013, Mixed Media

Soft materials meet hard science in Radical Elements, an exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences featuring 40 contemporary art quilts, each inspired by a different element from the periodic table. The works in the show, organized by Studio Art Quilt Associates, explore the elements in many ways, ranging from their industrial uses to personal memories associated with them. For example, Barbara Schulman’s piece, A Pepto Bismuth Story (below), started with the “beautiful crystalline structure” and iridescent colors of the element, which reminded the artist of her mother’s hankies and lace, so she incorporated them into the design along with bismuth’s best-known consumer product, Pepto-Bismol.

Grace Harbin Wever’s Iridium – My Darkness to Light II (above), takes a more strictly scientific idea, although she expresses it in a highly artistic, indirect way. The artist, a former cell biologist, was intrigued when she learned that iridium microelectrodes had been successfully implanted into the human brain as part of studies in vision and perception. A range of materials, including holographic fabric and copper wire, surround the central eye image, nodding to the juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made that characterizes recent advances in the field of vision.

Indeed, very few of the quilts on display stick to the traditional materials of fabric, thread and batting. Materials used range from duct tape and aluminum foil to keyboard keys and dining utensils. Curator Jill Rumoshosky Werner notes, “In a relatively short period of time, the field of art quilting has undergone a fundamental change. The primary focus has shifted from decorating the surface of a quilted wall hanging to a much broader acceptance of ideas, styles, and materials.”

Radical Elements is on exhibit at the NAS Building in Washington, DC, through October 19th.  Many of the quilts can be seen online here.

Barbara Schulman, A Pepto Bismuth Story, 2013, Mixed Media

Barbara Schulman, A Pepto Bismuth Story, 2013, Mixed Media

Science Caturday: Distractingly Sexy Kitteh

toosexylabDo I even have to mention this week’s top story in science? Nah.

Science Caturday: Introducing KittyBiome

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Scientists have made huge strides in understanding the human microbiome, and now they’re ready to move on to more advanced creatures – cats. A crack team* of microbiologists headed by Jonathan Eisen, Jennifer Gardy, Holly Ganz and Jack Gilbert** just launched KittyBiome, a citizen science project that aims to understand “how microbiomes differ among cats, whether those differences reveal insights into cat behavior and biology, and how the kitty microbiome depends on and may shape the health of your cat.”

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Among the questions they plan to address are:

  • How do grumpy cats compare to happy cats?
  • How do athletic cats compare to couch potato cats?
  • Does it matter if you feed your cat a paleo-mouse diet?
  • How do indoor and outdoor cats compare?

They reckon the answers are in the poop.  For a $99 donation to the KittyBiome Kickstarter, any cat owner can send in a fecal sample and answer a few questions about his or her cat’s health and diet. The researchers then sequence the DNA of the bacteria in the sample and, after a few weeks, share the type and concentration of the bacteria online. Participants (or their hoomins) can even compare their microbiomes to those of other cats, including some “celebrity kitties.”

Don’t have a cat of your own? For just a $25 donation, the researchers will sequence the microbiome of a shelter kitty. KittyBiome plans to expand beyond housecats, too – a pledge of $149 or more allows donors to see the microbiome profile of a wild cheetah, leopard, puma, or lion.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other awesome perks the KittyBiome team is offering – they include a cool illustrated book about bacteria by Jennifer Gardy and an exclusive Kitty Microbe scarf, designed by me.

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*Extra points for refraining from using the word “buttcrack”

**Noted dog person

For more information and microbiology-related lolcats, you can follow @KittyBiome on Twitter

Art of Science: Juan Travieso Paints Endangered Species

Juan Travieso, Extinction is Eternal, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013

Juan Travieso, Extinction is Eternal, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013

Earth Day seems like the perfect moment to showcase the work of Juan Travieso, a Cuban-born painter based in Miami. Travieso’s oil and acrylic paintings feature endangered species, particularly a vast array of endangered birds, juxtaposed against design elements that suggest encroaching buildings, technology, and disease – in other words, some of the things that endanger them.

In a recent interview with the art blog Hi-Fructose, Travieso explained his inspiration. “As a part of nature, I am aware of the fact that we are trying so hard as a species to disconnect ourselves from what we are. I feel that it is my responsibility as an artist and as a citizen of the world to give voice to the powerless species on this earth. Therefore, I have been focusing on endangered species for the last six years. One of my goals is to paint all of the endangered birds in the world.”

The ambitious scale of that goal is part of the point. Travieso notes that after two years of painting endangered birds, he realized that the message of the paintings would be magnified by their sheer number.  “The more different species I painted, the more the audience would understand the great value of their loss. One of my dreams is to have a retrospective with all of my bird paintings under the same roof. It would be a grand statement on the toll we have taken on nature.”

You can read the full interview here  and see the full Endangered Birds series at Travieso’s website.

Art of Science: Lita Albuquerque’s Magic Pixel Dust

 

Lita Albuquerque’s installation Beekeeper (2006), now on view in Santa Fe, is a piece that is much more compelling than the artist’s own description of it would lead you to believe.

According to Albuquerque, “Beekeeper (created in collaboration with Chandler McWilliams and Jon Beasley) is a pair of video projections controlled by generative computer software. The individual pixels that make up the image of the beekeeper separate and move out into space, dissolving the solid form into its constituent parts, spread until the entire wall is covered in a sea of slowly moving pixels, then reverse direction, heading for their original position. The software allows each pixel to choose its own unique path every time, creating a work in a constant state of becoming.” (source)

The artist has said that her goal with this work was “to present the visual similarity between a beekeeper and an astronaut,” which she approached by “[creating] a narrative around which the beekeeper’s aim is to help maintain biological life on the planet and the astronaut became the starkeeper maintaining life in the cosmos.”

On that level, this piece doesn’t work for me. In fact, it makes very little sense. The main visual similarity between apiarists and astronauts is the fact that both wear protective suits. Beekeepers, at least until very recently, were more interested in producing honey than in “maintaining biological life on the planet”, and astronauts are “starkeepers”, protecting the stars and planets from intergalactic threats, only in the movies.

As art that explores how we see and comprehend the world, however, Beekeeper is sublime. Just thinking about how the pixels gather and disperse could keep your mind working for hours. And as a statement about what we human beings are – collections of particles in constant flux – Beekeeper approaches the profound.

You can see Beekeeper in the exhibition Inventory of Light at Peters Projects in Santa Fe until April 25th, and you can find more work by Lita Albuquerque on her website.