Art-Science | Public Outreach | Visual science communication
It is common to place art and science on different ends of a spectrum, but creativity is an essential component to the scientiﬁc process just as it is vital for the artists. Artists and scientists share an unquenchable curiosity for the unknown. They also explore and question the world to create something new. It is clear that media plays a critical role in transmitting and disseminating scientiﬁc knowledge and that visuals dominate our oversaturated information culture. Better communication approaches are needed to address this divide, particularly in the form of visual art. With the vast disconnect between research and the public, an artist-in-residence program offer a new path to cultivate public understanding of science, and visualize things from complex biological processes to novel clinical ﬁndings. This program is an opportunity for self-identiﬁed artists to explore the area of art-science. The program promotes multi-disciplinary approaches but aims to have the participants create art that suitable as cover art. The participants will also have there work featured in the spring 2020 ArtLab Exhibition.
For the AiR residency, participants will produce work over the summer of 2019. Artist applications were openned May 6th and closed May 17th. Laboratories interested in hosting an artist applied for the program. The laboratories detailed potential projects, pending papers, and other information about the artist role within their laboratories.
In addition to the full residency, a cover art and art request submission system will be developed. Laboratories that wish to submit cover art for papers currently under review will be asked to provide a summary of the article. Summaries will be shared with the artist group.
Overall, these two programs will build a foundation for future artist-scientist collaborations and foster innovative approaches to promote science communication and the publics understanding of science.
Owen Murphy is an electronic enginner by day and a lser show specialist by night. This year, we have invited him to the ArtLab Exhibition to present a laser lights display April 11 at the Wond’ry (RSVP today!). He is currentyl an electronic engineer at Thorlabs Quantum Electronics where he develops electronics for complex optical engines used in optical coherence technology imagin systems. He also contributes to circul design, developing automate test aftware, and is involved in regulatory compliance. Given his vital role in FOCAL POINT: Lights, Lasers, and Lesnses, we were curious to find out more about Owen’s sources of inspiration and history, and of course how this current endeavor speaks to both aspects of art and science.
Would you describe yourself as an artist? Based upon your engineering background you certainly have a handle on scientific material. Is art more a venture or more closely tied to your own work?
I would consider myself more of an engineer than an artist since I spend most of time designing electronics, but working on laser displays is definitely an artistic venture for me. It’s great to have an artistic outlet like this, and I’m really appreciative of you guys for bringing me out to show off my work!
How did your technical career come to incorporate artistic elements?
I had always been a tinkerer as a child, but I first got into electronics specifically through music. I started playing guitar in middle school, and quickly found out that I could build your own guitar effects pedals. I spent a lot of time when I was younger scanning the internet, looking for schematics for effects designs, not really knowing what I was looking at. When I went to college, I studied electrical engineering in part to get a better understanding of the electronics I had been working with. After I graduated, I ended up working at two different companies that built laser light show projectors.
How are the displays which you will be creating inspired and made possible by both a scientific and artistic methods?
Laser shows, in my opinion, are perfect examples of combination of science and art. The invention of the laser in the 50’s and the 60’s was really the culmination of a lot of work in quantum physics and material science, so laser shows are definitely made possible by the hard work of dedicated scientists (plus lasers just look really “science-y”). Having worked for a few companies that develop new laser light show equipment, I can tell you that the technology used for laser displays is constantly changing. And while the medium (lasers) is directly coupled to some pretty complex science, laser shows are absolutely an artistic endeavor.
What motivated you to merge the two subjects?
Music has always been a major part of my life, and I was luckily able to find a job after college that meshed my technical education and my love of music, specifically in a live environment. I was initially brought in simply to help out with the electronics design, but I tried my hand at actually programming shows, and it turned out I had a knack for it. Though I no longer run laser shows professionally, I was able to work on some really interesting, fun, and high profile work. In addition to music festivals, sports events and concert tours, I was the laser programmer and operator for the TV show America’s Got Talent (AGT) for three years in a row. My company even won an artistic award from the International Laser Display Association for the work I did on AGT.
How would you say that each side of this art-science dichotomy informs the other? Are there ways in which artistic approaches have influenced your perception of what is possible with sciences, and vice versa?
I personally design electronics for a living, and I have always considered it a creative endeavor. A lot of people look at something like electronics, and think that because there is a lot of math involved, or that because it is such a technical discipline, that it’s all about following formulas and plugging numbers into equations. But there really is a lot of creativity that goes into it. When I get a list of requirements for a new design, there are usually many different ways to achieve the goal, and a lot of time, it involves thinking outside the box. Looking at it in a broader way, the history of science is littered with extremely creative people making important discoveries.
Friend: “Oh, I really fell in love when I was apprenticing for “(some big name artist).”
Me: “Really? What did you do as his apprentice?”
Friend: “Here, see this painting he sold at this auction? I painted that. And this one. And this one.”
Me: “What? But his name is on it.”
Friend: “Yeah, I mean, he may have done something to it after I painted it. I just can’t tell.”
Me: “Did you report him?”
Friend: “No way! It was an awesome opportunity. This is just how ‘Major League’ art works. The artist named isn’t always the painter.”
That casual conversation kept tumbling in my head. All my visions of the lonely, tortured artists started to contrast with armies of carefully coordinated painters attacking commissioned projects. This made so much more sense! How was Thomas Kinkade, “The Painter of Light” so prolific? He had a MASSIVE staff, directed to paint lots of light. The superstar artist Jeff Koons (estimated net worth ~$500M) once said, “I’m basically the idea person. I’m not physically involved in the production. I don’t have the necessary abilities, so I go to the top people.” One such work, “Cracked Egg”, is reported as having been painted by an undergrad at $15/hr before being sold in 2003 for $501,933 (New York Times Magazine). This industrialization of one artist’s brand is not a new concept, either, just unpopular. Studios or bodegas have existed to amplify the production of a few individuals since The Renaissance. And why am I surprised? In any other pursuit, a person that finds success usually delegates to expand her circle of influence and do more of what they enjoy (or what’s lucrative). Apple outsources their manufacturing. The firm partners hire more lawyers. The Pope appoints priests. And professors take grad students.
Credit gets equally strange in the scientific community. Authorship and inventorship are often parsed out subjectively in a weird postmortem of long, winding projects. Academically, physical experimentation is often performed by multiple people with varied expertise. The direction of these projects often starts with the Principle Investigator (professor heading the lab), but the application of the ideas often involves creativity and invention. Often, the end goal – or the plan to reach it – is changed as team members discover a better approach. The initial pioneers often find a need to rely on the skills of another. Sometimes, whole portions of the work are contracted out.
There are many fair-minded and generous scientists that still struggle in appropriately defining the role of a given contributor.
I came up with the idea, but I made it work using equipment curated by my advisor in his lab over the course of 15 years. Does he own part of the idea because he allotted me the resources?
My student has worked tirelessly in doing everything I’ve asked to complete this body of experiments, but hasn’t contributed intellectually to the project. Does he deserve inventorship on this patent?
I’m finishing up the work another student left unfinished. Without me, it would not be completed. Do I deserve more credit than her for doing only 20% of the work? What’s the additive percent worth of finishing the project?
These same questions can always be extended, too. How much credit does the academic institution deserve for providing space? Does the NIH deserve credit for funding this project? Does the taxpayer deserve credit for funding the NIH? By the same extension, does the commissioner of a given artwork share in the responsibility for its creation? Is the Medici family’s lowest serf in some way responsible for Donatello’s art by contributing to the Medici coffers?
Art and Science are societal culminations blossoming from the most mundane foundations. FedEx delivered my PCR primers and my oil paints this week. I could not have done much without FedEx. Some guy in a purple shirt should probably be a fine print coauthor on my painting and my publication on drug delivery.
A true master in any field will have willing apprentices. The apprentice will take the contract he’s given in the hopes of making his tomorrow better. The world is not fair. Absolute answers are tricky. Everyone should take pride in the accomplishments in Science. And Art. We all own a piece. We are all the Artist.
One highlight of this year’s ArtLab event will be 10 minutes “laser talks” presented by a selected group of Vanderbilt individuals outlined below. These talks will showcase the process of using lights, lasers, and lenses through film, performances, digital art, photography, and microscopy.
Jonathan Rattner has found his specialization in informative film which promotes viewer interaction with the medium. A graduate of the University of Iowa and the NYU Tisch School for the Arts, his films – often an innovative collage of anachronistic and found footage – have been screened at numerous events including the Ann Arbor Film Festival and several academic institutions in the US and Europe. Jonathan is a current assistant professor in the department of Cinema and Media Arts at Vanderbilt.
Musician and multidisciplinary artist Alejandro Acierto endeavors to link the world of artistic expression to the corporeal self. On the side of music, his critically-acclaimed cross-cultural performances range from classical to experimental; he has often paired these musical interests with the visual arts, highlighting the realities and often ill-formed conceptions of immigrants and those underrepresented. Throughout international success, Alejandro remains a passionate educator, particularly in the field of new media, earning his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago and serving as Mellon Assistant Professor of Digital Art and New Media here at Vanderbilt.
True to form of an ArtLab contributor, Jacob Steenwyk‘s interests both academic and personal are quite diverse. As part of the Rokas Lab at Vanderbilt, he specializes in investigating microbiology through utilizing a computer science background to model species phylogeny. Jacob is also a strong proponent of local science outreach, but outside of academia, his pursuits include serving in diversity committees, songwriting and digital music production, poetry, and graphic art – such as the algorithmically-based digital pieces which he has on display at ArtLab.
For native Nashvillian John Warren, the 16mm film camera has never gone out of style. By utilizing a technology which many others elect to pass by in conjunction with digital post-production means, his works function as a nexus between history his more contemporary subjects. The process of capturing film he describes as a revelatory process, a discovery of an inner emotion with melds with the subject of his lens. His work has been exhibited at countless festivals and fine arts museums both near and abroad, also receiving an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission. John is currently a professor of Video Art at Vanderbilt, in addition to performing outreach with local high schools and non-profit organizations.
Bryan Millis, a sort of microscope guru on campus, can be found day to day assisting students through the Cell Imaging Shared Resource (CISR) core. Bryan is a member of the Cell and Developmental Biology department and carries out his own research as well as helping other scientists attain a high level of microscopy. He also gives lectures to graduate students about the inner-workings of microscopes, lasers, and light paths. Recently, Bryan built a lattice light sheet microscope from scratch which is currently undergoing testing before being incorporated into the CISR lineup.
The event pages officially up as we approach a month out from the Focal Point Lights, Lasers, and Lenses show. Today, we will feature the Curb Center- ArtLab Fellows. See there work at the ArtLab show on Arpil 11th!
Save your spot by registering today!
Nicole Fisher is a Pharmacology Ph.D. student with a passion for understanding neurological and psychiatric diseases. Her current research focuses on developing new treatments for rare neurodevelopmental disorders. Outside of the lab, she enjoys hiking, cooking, and arts and crafts of all kinds, especially painting and knitting. She is particularly interested in ArtLab to use art as a means to communicate the impact and power of science to a broad audience.
Jacob Steenwyk’s interests span the sciences and arts including music, graphic art, and poetry. His award-winning scientific work blends the fields of computer science and biology to understand better the evolution of medically and technologically significant fungi (e.g., disease-causing pathogens and producers of alcoholic beverages, respectively). For example, what causes some species of fungi to be pathogenic while close relatives are harmless? Or what is the evolutionary signature of domestication among yeast associated with wine-making? His artistic endeavors explore the global and personal aspects of modern life such as raising awareness to critically endangered animals, navigating a world of false facts, and the meaning of life itself. As an ArtLab Curb Center Fellow, Jacob aims to use his unique background facilitate dialogue between scientists and artists by implementing techniques and using imagery from both realms.
Nadia Marie Roumanos is a second-year graduate student in the School of Medicine pursuing a master’s in Applied Clinical Informatics and concurrently works as both a supply chain analytics intern at HealthTrust and a clinical data science intern at Utilize Health. A 2016 graduate in Mathematics and Economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, she previously worked at Albany Medical Center’s Biomedical Acceleration and Commercialization Center as well as three positions at Vanderbilt University, most recently as a cloud engineer intern at Information Technology. Her capstone project is focused on mobile health for adults with sickle cell disease. In addition to her academic responsibilities, she serves on multiple boards and committees from three different states.
Maria Luísa Jabbur is a Brazilian scientist who earned her bachelor’s in Biology at The University of São Paulo, where she also started practicing scientific illustration. Most of her work is composed of pointillism illustrations made out of pigma ink and occasionally watercolor. She is currently a graduate student at the Biological Sciences department, working with circadian clocks and evolution. She does art while she should be working since there is no spare time. However, the art she will be presenting at this year’s ArtLab is a series of poems hidden within graphs commonly used in her field, so technically that probably still counts as working.
Haley received her B.S. from the University of Tennessee and her Ph.D. from the Medical University of Vienna, where she was credited with creating the first murine model of alloreactive mismatch T memory cells for use in bone marrow, heart, and skin transplantation studies. Before moving to Vanderbilt in 2015, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. She is currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Savona lab where she designs pre-clinical studies for novel therapies in Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Samuel Pevzner, M.D., Ph.D. is a second-year diagnostic radiology resident who creates art from images of human eye lenses obtained through computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.
Sean Bedingfield is a biomedical engineer in his graduate studies at Vanderbilt University. Oil painting has always drawn his interest with bold colors and enhanced texture. Laboratory research brings plenty of failures, and that taught him to get comfortable enough with failure to finally try his hand at the oil painting he so enjoyed when done by others.
How do we explore the world? How do we convey that knowledge to others? And how do lights, lasers, and lenses change both of these processes? These questions are motivations for thinking through the overlapping practices of scientists and artists, both of whom use materials and research, observation, measuring, experimenting, and imagining to create a truth of the world. The Spring ArtLab exhibition explores art grounded in light, lasers, and lenses. Emphasizing exploration, formal experimentation, materiality, process, and exhibition context, this show aims to visually explore science through the lens of art. Here we feature our Wond’ry-ArtLab Fellows, all extremely talented undergradutes within the Vanderbilt University Community, who will be contributing work to the event.