Membrane: Biology and Art

Opening Reception: Friday, March 25th 6 – 8pm

Exhibition: March 26th – May 1st, 2016

Membrane: Biology and Art is an exhibition considering the relationship between art and science in the contemporary world. Comprised of nanoscopic neurons, slime mold ceramics, and natural installations, this exhibition explores the reciprocal nature of biology and art. Including concepts that marry scientific research with artistic inquiry, Membrane investigates human curiosity and man’s modern relationship to the natural world.
Natalie Andrew’s slime mold specimens ingest various materials including cobalt, copper, and other elements, leaving finely drawn marks resembling the minuscule lines of miniature painters. Nathalie captures their journey in a kiln-fixed glaze, producing a stunning array of pottery. Joe Davis’ Neimand weiss das ich Rumpelstilchskin heiss!, involves genetically engineering silk worms to spin metallic gold – an homage to the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. And his ‘self-assembling’ clock features components of a disassembled clock enclosed in a jar. Like life, which spontaneously ‘self-assembled’, the experiment tests whether these simple parts could ‘self-assemble’ into a functioning clock. David Kim’s Unsent Unburdened Subconscious Subterranean consists of a compost pile cradled at chest height. The compost is primarily created by feeding an earthworm colony drafts of unsent letters the artist has written to his estranged mother. Through a buried hydrophone microphone, viewers can listen to the earthworm colony, which sounds much like a sonogram.

Membrane: Biology and Art

Natalie Andrew is a biologist, cognitive-scientist and master rhinestoner researching creativity, paradigm shifts, and the ingredients of wonder. Formerly a scientist at Harvard Medical School, Natalie has published in Nature Cell Biology (where her illustrations made the cover) and other journals. She has a Doctorate in Biology, a Masters in Cognitive Science, and a Bachelors in Physics with Electronics, all from Birmingham University, England. Natalie currently lives in Cambridge, MA and works in Artisan’s Asylum Somerville, MA as a full time, self-supporting artist/scientist.

Joe Davis spent most of his early life in the Deep South. While earning his Creative Arts degree (1973) from Mt Angel College in Oregon, he pioneered sculptural methods in laser carving at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ, University of Cincinnati Medical Center Laser Laboratory and other renowned laboratories. In 1976, Davis signed the first launch services agreement with NASA to fly a payload for the arts on Space Shuttle and in 1980, was the first non-scientist to address Goddard Spaceflight Center’s Engineering Colloquium. He joined MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1981 as a Research Fellow and was appointed Lecturer in Architecture shortly thereafter. In 1986, Davis created the first genetically-engineered work of art and organized the most powerful and lengthily radar signals for extraterrestrial intelligence ever transmitted. In 1989 he created large permanent sculpture, fountain and pedestrian lighting for Kendall Sq. in Cambridge, MA. In the same year Davis joined the laboratory of Alexander Rich at MIT where he is widely regarded to have founded new fields in art and biology. He attached fishing rods and minuscule fish hooks to his microscopes and developed other whimsical instruments that could resolve audio signatures from microorganisms. His “DNA programming languages” for inserting poetic texts and graphics into living organisms are cited in scientific literature. In 2009 Davis transmitted the gene for the most abundant protein on Earth from Arecibo Radar in Puerto Rico to three sun-like stars. In 2010, he joined the laboratory of George Church at Harvard where he is designated “Artist Scientist” In 2011 Davis initiated a project that would eventually make it possible to turn silk into gold. In 2012 he organized an international consortium to sequence the genome of the ancestor of all domestic apples and later, to contain a version of Wikipedia in that same genome.

David Kim studied Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the University of California San Diego before getting a gradute degree at the Digital+Media department at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is presently Adjunct Faculty at RISD.

Jessica Polka is currently a postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.

Art ± Bio Collaborative (Saúl Nava and Stephanie Dowdy-Nava) ART+BIO Collaborative is an artist- and scientist-led non-profit organization that fosters the integration of science, nature, and art through novel collaborations, research, public engagement and education. We utilize the intersection of the arts, biology, natural history and the life sciences as a catalyst for social dialogue and creative exchange of ideas with the public.

Seth Shipman is a scientist working at the interface of Neuroscience and Synthetic Biology. His work in the lab aims to encode molecular events over time to recover the past and to create reductionist neural systems to understand the human brain. Zen Neuron shows a single human neuron, cultured in isolation. This neuron was differentiated from an induced pluripotent stem cell, which itself was derived by reprogramming skin cells from a healthly adult donor. The isolation of this cell is in stark contrast to the vast interconnected circuits of the brain, where an individual neuron may send and receive information to and from thousands of other neurons. In the absence of these other neurons, the cell shown here forms connections, or synapses, with itself. Information, in the form of electrical impulses, is sent down the axon (in orange) and received at synapses onto the dendrites and cell body (in green), integrated, and sent again to the axon. The single cell contains the sole output and input of the system, entirely reduced to the point of self reflection.