Tag Archives: science art

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




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: Tissues from Tissues

Jessica Drenk: Soft Cell Tissue toilet paper, wax, glass

Jessica Drenk: Soft Cell Tissue
toilet paper, wax, glass

I spotted a wall sculpture by Jessica Drenk recently at the Adah Rose Gallery in Maryland. The piece attracted me because it looked like osteocytes, a type of bone cell that I’ve featured before in my paintings. It took several more glances before I realized that these particular cells were, in fact, made of rolls of toilet paper.

As it turns out, this is exactly Drenk’s oeuvre – taking common, manufactured items and transforming them back into the building blocks of nature. In addition to toilet paper, she has used pencils, books, mop heads, Q-tips, coffee filters and PVC pipe to create familiar yet unfamiliar versions of natural forms, from rock formations to nerve cells.

As she describes her work:  “By transforming familiar objects into nature-inspired forms and patterns, I examine how we classify the world around us. Manufactured goods appear as natural objects, something functional becomes something decorative, a simple material is made complex, and the commonplace becomes unique. In changing books into fossilized remnants of our culture, or in arranging elegantly sliced PVC pipes to suggest ripple and wave patterns, I create a connection between the man-made and the natural.” (source)

Her work is currently on view in a group show at the Seager Gray Gallery in California and will be featured in a solo show at the Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington, MD next month. You can see lots more at her website.


The Art of Science: Fashioning Cancer


As a big proponent of showing your inner beauty by wearing your cells and microbes on the outside, I couldn’t help but be excited by this collection of ball gowns inspired by microscopic photos of cancer cells created by Jacqueline Firkins.

Firkins, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada, says, “Many women who have battled cancer express a disconnect with the fashion imagery that commonly represents the disease,” such as the ubiquitous pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness. Firkins hopes that her collection, titled Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty will encourage discussions about disease, body image and beauty.

The cell patterns on the dresses were inspired by images captured by researchers in the lab of UBC scientist Christian Naus.

“My hope is that somehow through fashion, I more closely tap into what a woman might be feeling about her body as she undergoes the disease, but simultaneously reflect a strength, beauty, and resilience,” says Firkins, who will use the collection to raise money for cancer research, patients and survivors.

A free public presentation and discussion of the Fashioning Cancer collection will take place March 25 at noon at UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre. More information is here.

Photo by Tim Matheson via UBC News