The sci­ence of art

Art and sci­ence might be two dif­fer­ent ar­eas but a group of Dunedin artists and sci­en­tists have proved there can be a meet­ing of minds even on com­pli­cated con­cepts such as ge­net­ics. Re­becca Fox talks to some artists in­volved in the Art and Ge­net­ics Ex­hibi

Otago Daily Times - - Arts -

CHANEL Tay­lor dis­pels the no­tion that you are ei­ther an arts per­son or a sci­ence one.

A neu­ro­sci­en­tist by trade, she is now study­ing art at the South­ern In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

What might seem a huge turn­around by some is not so strange for Tay­lor.

She has al­ways been in­ter­ested in art, tak­ing both sci­ence and art at school, but when it came to think­ing about ter­tiary study she needed to choose — she chose sci­ence.

While study­ing sci­ence — a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Otago fol­lowed by a PhD in neu­ro­science and the post­doc­tor­ate stud­ies at Ox­ford Univer­sity in Eng­land and in Queens­land, Aus­tralia — she con­tin­ued to play around with art in her spare time.

‘‘It was a hobby.’’

It was while in Bris­bane that her artis­tic side be­gan ‘‘pulling again’’ and she be­came more im­mersed in the arts.

She be­gan to se­ri­ously think about chang­ing her ca­reer fo­cus.

‘‘It was dif­fi­cult ini­tially to make the de­ci­sion. I was heav­ily into sci­ence and had spent a long time study­ing.’’

Tay­lor took a leap of faith and re­turned to New Zealand to study for a bach­e­lor of visual arts de­gree at the South­ern In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

‘‘It’s not that I gave up on the sci­ence as­pect. I thought I’d give it a go. But from day one I loved it. I felt like it was a re­ally good di­rec­tion to go in.’’

It turns out she has been able to in­cor­po­rate her sci­ence into her art.

She is one of 24 artists to pair with sci­en­tists in this year’s arts and sci­ence ex­hi­bi­tion.

Otago School of Art se­nior lec­turer Peter Stup­ples said this year’s ex­hi­bi­tion was linked to the Con­fer­ence of the Ge­net­ics So­ci­ety of Aus­trala­sia be­ing hosted at the Univer­sity of Otago.

For the past seven years, art school stu­dents, staff and other artists had joined with sci­en­tists to cre­ate art­works dur­ing an about eight­month pe­riod.

This year the artists were work­ing with those in the ge­net­ics and bio­chem­istry fields.

‘‘The idea is not to il­lus­trate sci­ence but mainly to bring sci­ence to the public, to show peo­ple who come to the show an idea of sci­ence.’’

The works that emerge cover all sorts of me­dia — some­times paint­ings but also draw­ings, video, sculp­ture and print­mak­ing.

‘‘The most spec­tac­u­lar are 3­D. We have had some amaz­ing pieces.’’

Artists in­volved this year in­clude Josephine War­ring, Marion Wasse­naar and Vic­to­ria McIntosh.

As part of her de­gree, Tay­lor is re­quired to com­plete an in­tern­ship, so when she heard about the art and sci­ence ex­hi­bi­tion she ap­proached Stup­ples to see if she could take part.

So as well as pro­duc­ing art for the ex­hi­bi­tion, Tay­lor has been putting to­gether the cat­a­logue for it.

‘‘I felt my sci­ence back­ground should re­ally help me. I’ve got that per­spec­tive from both sides.’’

Be­ing in­spired by sci­ence is not that un­com­mon and there is a grow­ing field of art­sci­ence blended works.

‘‘Back in high school I had to choose be­tween the two but now you can in­te­grate the two a lot eas­ier.’’

As the de­gree has ex­posed her to many dif­fer­ent medi­ums, she is still to find her niche, but then again, more and more artists work in a va­ri­ety of medi­ums to­day.

‘‘There is a trend to­ward mixed me­dia rather than just one pure medium. I think I’m more in that camp.’’

For the art and sci­ence ex­hi­bi­tion she has produced a se­ries of wa­ter colour paint­ings which she plans to dig­i­tally scan on to per­spex.

Her in­spi­ra­tion came from dis­cus­sions with Prof David Hutchin­son, a quan­tum physi­cist with whom she has talked a lot about quan­tum bi­ol­ogy and pro­cesses in pho­to­syn­the­sis.

‘‘It’s been won­der­ful. Such an ex­cel­lent ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

She planned to base her third­year project on quan­tum physics, and found the ex­hi­bi­tion an ideal time to learn more about the sub­ject.

‘‘We’ve had some great dis­cus­sions. I got to visit his lab, which was mind­blow­ing.’’

She has also en­joyed putting to­gether the cat­a­logue and learn­ing the skills in­volved in that as well as meet­ing the artists in­volved.

Fel­low artists Pam McKin­lay and Jesse­James Rehu Pick­ery took their in­spi­ra­tion from Dr Julia Hors­field, a de­vel­op­men­tal ge­neti­cist in the Univer­sity of Otago’s pathol­ogy de­part­ment.

Hors­field’s lab­o­ra­tory looks at com­po­nents of DNA strands at a molec­u­lar level through the lens of bio­chem­i­cal pro­cesses cap­tur­ing chro­mo­some’s con­tours and topo­log­i­cal be­hav­iour.

‘‘We imag­ined an un­fold­ing chro­mo­some, the un­rav­el­ling of DNA, bound into a rigid shape, at the mo­ment of sta­sis — some sec­tions closed in the twist of the dou­ble he­lix and sec­tions with free roam­ing loops in space and time.’’

To cre­ate it McKin­lay used muehlen­beckia, vine which was then curved and twisted to evoke the dou­ble he­lix.

So in look­ing at DNA architectu­re they ‘‘put a face on the sci­ence and a story into the data as a nod to quan­tum bi­ol­ogy and the field of bio­physics’’, she said.

McKin­lay also worked with Christine Keller to cre­ate a hand­wo­ven piece out of merino wool which used a coun­ter­bal­ance loom also in­spired by Hors­field’s re­search.

‘‘Quite sim­ply, art and sci­ence is my happy place,’’ she said.

It is her third year of in­volve­ment with the ex­hi­bi­tion and has found her back­ground in tex­tile sci­ence prob­a­bly influences her work.

‘‘I love ideas in­volv­ing cut­ting edge sci­ence and be­ing able to vi­su­alise it.’’

The sci­en­tists who take part are ‘‘in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous’’ with their time as they ex­plained to the artists their work.

‘‘This is stuff which will change ev­ery­day lives and the way we in­ter­act with each other.’’

Chanel Tay­lor

PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Mixed me­dia . . . Chanel Tay­lor works on the wa­ter­colours she is cre­at­ing as part of the Art and Ge­net­ics Ex­hi­bi­tion.

Iranga Tukunga Iho, 2017, by Pam McKin­lay and Jesse­James Rehu Pick­ery.

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