Last weekend, I mostly finished sewing the first layer of yellow rondelle beads. In the original microscopy image, the cell nuclei were colored bright blue, due to being labeled with Hoechst stain, which labels DNA. In Darcy’s version of the image, she switched this color to pale yellow, which makes them look more delicate and maybe a bit sad. The vast majority of the nuclei do not show cell staining around them (light blue in Darcy’s version), suggesting that they are most likely the remnants of dead cells. This after thought makes me feel like the pale yellow color is even more fitting.
After creating this “lawn” of atrophied cells, I began to think about how I would like to depict that ones that have survived. First of all, I wanted the living cells to be raised above the surface, similar to the butterflies in Joel Amit’s work I posted two weeks ago. This is where I faced a major challenge. I intended to use medium sized beads for cell bodies, cover them with a pattern of small seed beads and follow Sally Curcio’s method of elevating these structures on pins (see the post form two weeks ago). Developing this technique required me to delve into the T and E parts of STEAM: Technology and Engineering, as well as some level of Math. I ended up spending the whole week performing what I jokingly called “pilot experiments”, which might be referred to as studies in art or prototypes in engineering.
None of the methods suited what I was trying to portray. On Saturday, Darcy, Kate and I had our next Skype call, where I received some helpful suggestions on how to attach fully elevated structures to a canvas. The very next day, I rushed off to the bead store with an idea of my own that merged their suggestions with some elements I was thinking about before. The materials I was initially looking to get turned out to cost an arm and leg, so I had to compromise and change my plan again.
The set of pictures below shows the series of “experiments” I performed to determine the optimal method for creating the cell bodies, before arriving at my final version, which is shown on the white background on the bottom. The background has a stain, because I used my daughter’s old canvas to try to prop it up before risking damaging my own.
It took me a long time to decide on whether I should stay true to the colors on Darcy’s image, or if I can put some bright blue Hoechst stain back in. Quite honestly, I ended up doing it primarily due to being unable to find the right shape stones in colors that would match. But I guess this color can serve as an additional factor that distinguishes the living cells. As you may have guessed, the large photo on the right shows how the whole cell came out. This is a first of many.
This week I am on to the next challenge: if propping these structures up requires me to stick wires through the canvas into a supportive layer of Styrofoam that I will attach in the back, how do I do that without losing my ability to keep sewing other elements onto the canvas?....
I have started painting the drawing of the projected image I talked about in last week’s blog. The digitally rendered microscopy image I am working from, “Mapping Manhattan”, is very complex and so the initial drawing is like an imperfect maze. I’m not trying to replicate Yana’s original microscopy image but instead I am just watching how it evolves through the stages I have imagined. The painting process demands that I pay close attention to the original image because progress is slow. I, therefore, have a lot of time to think about what I am doing.
I started with the magenta because it has a distinct pattern and there is less of it than the other colors. I used the magenta structures to orient myself to the whole space and then added the yellow cell bodies. My drawing is such a mass of tiny lines that I have to hunt for every structure. It felt like I was stargazing. I had to find a clear recognizable constellation of structures and work outward from that, painstakingly filling in more and more detail. My drawing will relate to the original electron microscopy image that Yana made but at this point, I am most interested in the degree to which that happens. At this point, it is emerging as a map which reflects perfectly my sense of trying to navigate its structure.
This process interesting because it allows me to not only get to know the image better but to observe myself observing the process. I thought about scientific observation mainly. This is because every time we take a data set and translate or distill it, we lose something or at the very least, change something. It is the natural evolution of the information processed by our creative brains that defines the final character of what we call knowledge of the “natural” world. While painting, I could see myself constantly interpreting the image, making choices about what to emphasize and what to forget about. At times, I felt like I was blatantly fudging the data.
So, after a number of hours spent “dissecting” my drawing, I was more convinced that the role of scientific observation is to preserve the original data as well as possible because otherwise our creative brains will shape and change it without our conscious awareness. If we are creatively structuring of our reality with only oblique reference to the already filtered data of our senses, we need the rigors of science to keep us in check. Science puts together a solid scaffold we can then jump off of in the search for creative ideas that often must lie outside of scientific methodologies, in scientific theory, new experimental approaches and the arts which can inform all of these.