Art + Travel + Science on the DNA Trail

On a rainy day in London, Eva and friends went on a quest to find the DNA sculptures scattered around the city by Cancer Research UK.

The Art of Science: Sculpture with Deep Roots

Dalya Luttwak, Cannabis Sativa, Steel, 2014
Dalya Luttwak, Cannabis Sativa, Steel, 2014

Artist Dalya Luttwak takes hard steel and transforms it into the sinuous shapes of roots.  For a recent show at the Greater Reston Art Center in Virginia, Luttwak chose as one of her subjects the root system of Cannabis Sativa.  Cannabis, a plant of many uses, which evokes strong and complex responses and touches on so many areas of our culture – industrial, medical, recreational, and criminal – is an irresistible subject for art.

Working in a combination of gilded and blackened steel, the artist “sought the “golden balance” arising from the combination of vertical and horizontal black roots, and existing between the different elements of the Cannabis plant and their nutritious, medical, and psychedelic uses.”

Luttwak, who was born in Israel and now works in the US, says that her work tries to “uncover the hidden beauty of roots, exploring the relationship between what grows above the ground and the invisible parts below of various root systems. My sculptures reveal what nature prefers to conceal. My wish is to uncover and discover roots even when they are hidden, indeed especially when they are hidden.” (source)

Beyond the secrets of plant life, however, this sculpture, and many of Luttwak’s other works, strongly evoke the brain and nervous system. Seeing the roots of the Cannabis Sativa as a metaphor for the paths of chemical stimulation or even of our tangled attitudes to drug-taking, elevate and deepen our response to this deceptively simple art.

You can see more of Dalya Luttwak’s work on her website.

The Art of Science: Mike Tyka Folds Proteins in Copper

Michael Tyka, KcsA Potassium Channel, Copper and Steel, 2011
Michael Tyka, KcsA Potassium Channel, Copper and Steel, 2011

Mike Tyka is not the first scientist to see artistic potential through his microscope, but he’s taken his love for the structure of protein molecules much farther than most – not only learning metalworking to make beautiful copper sculptures, but creating a studio/makerspace to do it in.

Tyka earned a PhD in Biophysics in 2007 and went  to work as a research fellow studying the structure and dynamics of protein molecules.  His particular area of interest is protein folding, and he has written computer simulation software to better understand the process.  Tyka says that “protein folding is the way our genetic code is interpreted from an abstract sequence of data into the functional enzymes and nano machines that drive our bodies.”

Tyka got interested in sculpture in 2009 when he helped design and construct Groovik’s Cube, a 35ft tall, functional, multi-player Rubik’s cube.  The cube will soon be on view at New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center as part of its Beyond Rubik’s Cube Exhibit.

Although the Groovik’s Cube project gave him his first taste of art-making, building a giant welded steel cube hardly prepared him to make exquisite replicas of complex biological forms.  So he took to the internet. “I learned almost everything I needed from youtube and from jeweler friends. I didn’t have a space to work so I got together with some friend and founded an artspace (Seattle’s ALTSpace) and acquired or built all the tools I needed.”

Tyka was obviously very familiar with the protein forms and knew how he wanted them to look. He chose to work in copper, a warm, soft metal, because he wanted the sculptures “to look smooth, soft, liquid. Proteins are not solid objects, they’re more like jelly, they move and vibrate. I wanted to reflect that property somehow.”

You can see Mike Tyka’s work at the Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle and at Science House in New York, and see lots more photos on his website. You can follow him on twitter @mtyka

The Art of Science: Courage Unmasked

Courage Unmasked, an art exhibit at the Katzen Art Center in Washington, DC, consists of 59 sculptures incorporating radiation masks previously worn by head and neck cancer patients.  Each radiation mask, made of plastic mesh, is heated and fitted individually to the patient prior to treatment so the head and neck can remain perfectly still, allowing the radiation to be precisely directed and avoid damage to healthy tissue.  Not surprisingly, many patients who have used these masks never want to see them again. “Some people run over them with cars,” noted artist Jessica Beels, one of the organizers of the exhibit.  But some donated theirs to be turned into works of art, which in turn will be auctioned off to support other cancer patients. Continue reading “The Art of Science: Courage Unmasked”

The Art of Science: The Lure of Lead

Lead is heavy. Not just in terms of physical density, but also of cultural weight.  Malleable, ductile and resistant to corrosion, lead has been used for over 8,000 years for many purposes. The Romans, who gave the element its name (Pb, for plumbum) built their famous water and sewer system of lead pipes, and used it to make statues, sarcophagi, cooking pots, and wine vessels.   In the middle ages, lead was used in roofing and plumbing, as well as for statues and ornaments, including the strips joining the pieces of colored glass in church windows. Up until the 20th century, lead was still widely used in paint and solder and as an additive in fuel. Continue reading “The Art of Science: The Lure of Lead”

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