Tuesday, May 20, 2008

InterfaCE: An Art/Science Collaboration

How can an artist's sensitive pastel drawings of Antarctic topography be useful in creating new nano-surfaces for micro-biological forms to grow?

Cynthia Pannucci, the founder/director of Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI), a 20-year old nonprofit organization based in New York serving the international art-sci-tech field recently told me about the unusual, on-going, collaboration of New Zealand artist, Claire Beynon, and New York-based polar research biologist, Sam Bowser.

Their work is highlighted on this month's ASCI Featured Member Page

Claire and Sam's collaborative art-science work began with several field research trips to Antarctica, but fundamentally it is distinguished by a unique collaborative process in which each has embraced and been influenced by the other's work and process (in the field, laboratory, studio, and gallery settings.) Most artist-scientist collaborations that I have seen over the years involve the artist being inspired by the scientist's research and/or helping the scientist visualize his/her research. Rarely does it move in the other direction of influence!

Sam studies an ancient group of unicellular creatures called Foraminifera ("forams"), in an attempt to understand their role in the functioning of marine ecosystems.

In their novel art/science collaboration, Claire's artwork, inspired by a season's research in Antarctica with Sam's team, is taken by Sam and miniaturized through nanolithographic methods and used as a template to produce a feature-rich growth substrate for forams to inhabit. Information on their motile behavior and structure is gathered using time-lapse video light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy, which in turn is applied to generate scientific hypotheses for more formal experimental tests. Claire then utilizes these scientific images as prompts for new artwork.

To their knowledge, this work is the first to explore ways in which Antarctic microorganisms are influenced by topographic features similar in scale to that of their native environments. By cycling information through artistic, scientific, and microbial processes in a way that is analogous to how energy and resources flow through Antarctic ecosystems, they believe their collaborative process presents a new creative paradigm that will be widely applicable to other life science disciplines.

The various iterative art/science products and collaborative dynamics of the Beynon/Bowser team were recently presented via INTERFACE, a visual display and lecture at the Frances Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York on May 2, 2008.

Please contact Cynthia Pannucci, ASCI Founder/Director if you have any questions.

ASCI has an open membership of artists, scientists, technologists, and those interested in the intersection of these fields.

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