The Art of Science: Jiyong Lee’s Genetics in Glass

Head-Thorax-Abdomen, white drosophila embryo segmentation, 2013
Head-Thorax-Abdomen, (white drosophila embryo segmentation), 2013

Jiyong Lee is a glass sculptor whose work plays with transparency and translucency, qualities that he says “serve as perfect metaphors for what is known and unknown about life science.”  Lee, who was born and raised in South Korea, was educated in the United States and is now a professor as well as a studio artist, heading the glass program at Southern Illinois University.

For the past few years, Lee has focused on the “Segmentation Series” – a group of sculptures based on cell division and genetics. In his words:

The Segmentation Series is inspired by my fascination with science of a cell, its division and the journey of growth that starts from a single cell and goes through a million divisions to become a life.  The segmented, geometrical forms of my work represent cells, embryos, biological and molecular structures—each symbolizing the building blocks of life as well as the starting point of life. The uniquely refined translucent glass surfaces suggest the mysterious qualities of cells and, on a larger scale, the cloudiness of their futures. The Segmentation Series is subtle and quiet yet structurally complex. I transform solid glass using cutting, lamination, carving, and surface refining processes to make art that is both beautiful and deeply invested with meaning.

The piece shown above, Head-Thorax-Abdomen, from 2013, is based on the embryo of a drosophila, or fruit fly. Drosophila are tiny creatures with a lifespan of weeks, but which have played an important role in the study of genetics and evolution.  Genetically, they have many similarities to humans, a fact which makes this piece a beautiful example of the profound interconnectedness of living beings.

Works from the Segmentation Series will be featured in a solo show of Lee’s work at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis, MO, from October 24 – November 29. You can see more work by Jiyong Lee at his website.

The Art of Science: Mika Aoki

Mika Aoki is a Japanese artist working mainly in glass. Her work, which features crystal-clear groupings of spore- and cell-like objects, treads a line between science and fantasy. Of this piece, Syringe, from 2009, Aoki says, “I got this theme from the idea of a sperm bank. Sperm donations are classified according to educational background or appearance. Great expectations are entrusted to microscopic life which can be sucked up by syringes. From this point of view, I notice that my personality is breathing within each cell of my body.” (source)

A viewer who didn’t know Aoki’s intent might see other possibilities in this piece, however – perhaps the specter of hospital-acquired infections or the idea behind vaccinations, of injecting ourselves with viruses to protect ourselves from them.

You can see more of Mika Aoki’s work at her website.

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