I am very honored and excited to join the SciArt Center Residency. When I was applying to the program, I was unsure which side would be a better fit for me. I am “a scientist by day and an artist by night.” While I enjoy the rigorous process of scientific research, art serves as my creative outlet. I grew up doing all sorts of artwork, which in retrospect I could call mixed media. It was my favorite way to spend my free time.
At the same time, I was getting very interested in biology and neuroscience in particular, which led me to choosing it as my major in college. I have always thought of the brain as the most fascinating part of our bodies. After a short period of considering to go to medical school, I decided that it wasn't for me and that "I would rather be dealing with test tubes than with patients"; which at the time seemed to closely resemble the solitary activity of creating art.
I went to graduate school and chose a project that evolved from studying neuronal differentiation and maturation to central nervous regeneration after injury. My research involved a lot of fluorescence microscopy, which really opened up my eyes to the literal beauty of science and the nervous system in particular. In the recent years, I decided to merge my two passions and began recreating images of cells, by modifying french beading techniques that are typically used for creating beaded flowers.
Given that I have mainly practiced art as a side hobby, I would love to use this residency as an opportunity to learn about the more extensive process that professional artists go through. I want to find out how artists come up with their ideas and if/how they systematize their creative process. How much is that process led by logic vs. intuition? I am particularly intrigued by finding out the reasons why an artist would choose a scientific subject for their work. After attending talks and exhibits by SciArt Center and LASER Talks, and hearing how art and science can inform each other, I would like to see firsthand what art can contribute to science beyond depicting and communicating the findings.
Over the last few years, there has been a large movement in making science more accessible to the public. From educational initiatives like organizing publicly accessible scientific laboratories (i.e. Genspace), to laughable actions such as injecting oneself with GFP or CRISPR, science is becoming more mainstream. However, there is a fine line between breaking down the image of a crazy scientist and providing information that may be a bit difficult to understand and apply. And misunderstanding can lead to poor judgments and opinions. One example of this was the entertaining story of a shrimp on a treadmill, where scientists were mistakenly accused of wasting the taxpayers’ dollars.
Therefore, science may need to be presented in bite-size pieces and in a way that would be both interesting and visually appealing to the general audience. Therefore, I would like to explore how art can make scientific topics interesting and understandable to the public.
I am so excited to begin this residency. It feels so right!! Thank you to the SciArt Center for this opportunity. Yana and I have already had interesting exchanges and I suspect it will be difficult to narrow the possible collaborations to only several topics. We have talked about the artistic representation of neuronal activity, why art is pleasurable to look at, what is the drive to make art, systems biology and networks… and more.
First, I should introduce myself and my work...just to get that out of the way...
Years ago, in the 1980s as I studied neurobiology and cognitive science at university, there was very little conversation about the way the arts and sciences intersect and inform each other. I was an anomaly because I was passionate about them both. Even though I was expected to choose one or the other, I never did. I understood the connections between science and art in terms of the more obvious qualities they both encourage; curiosity, focus, drive, creativity, problem solving and fascination with the material world. However, the real connection for me is that I see them as almost the same thing. The desire to observe, experiment and analyse phenomena in order to understand the world around me and myself. So, I’m greedy and wanted it all. Science appeals to my systematic evaluation of experience in order to bring the picture of nature more fully into focus. Art is the gestalt expression of my understanding of the world in the moment. I love how art and science both make room for newness and both have different modes of communicating their ever-evolving body of knowledge. They nurture the changing face of understanding. There is room to learn, change, move and breathe within scientific and artistic work.
I have been teaching Science, Psychology and Visual Art for 20 years, mainly to senior high school students. I have been a working artist most of my adult life and produce mainly abstract paintings and drawings. My imagery is about the biology, thought, memory and cognition and also broader scientific models such as motion, gravity and dark matter. I move between making images in several ways. At times I proceed in a process of predetermined steps governed by rules in order to observe specific outcomes. Other times, I draw and paint expressively and unselfconsciously and that is also very informative. Below is a piece that began as expressive drawing and then was carefully rendered.
Another thought… Finally, scientific experimentation and making art have another interesting parallel in that “failure” matters as much as success. When the results do not work out as expected, it requires honest evaluation about why and then informs the next step. This of course, applies to most of life but I believe, the way we educate has failed to emphasize this until very recently.