INTERFACE | CLAIRE BEYNON & SAMUEL BOWSER
An Antarctica ArtScience Collaboration
2005 - 2010
This video shows INTERFACE being installed at the Wadsworth Center, State Plaza, Albany, NY.
Claire's introductory speech was delivered by Prof. Jack Harris.
Sam's introductory speech at the unveiling of the installation
INTERFACE is a collaboratively conceived exhibition and accompanying multi-media presentation exploring the relationships between art and science, intuition and knowledge, fact and the imagination.
In line with International Polar Year objectives, one of the emphases of INTERFACE is on inter-disciplinary, intercontinental exchange, with a goal of increasing the public's understanding of the importance of Antarctica in the global system. References to major international research projects such as ANDRILL, as well as environmental issues such as the greenhouse effect and global climate change are implicit in this work.
‘Interface’ is a fusion of ‘inter’ meaning ‘between’ and ‘facio,’ ‘to make’ or ‘to do.’ In everyday language, it means ‘to bring into relationship.’ The word ICE is embedded within the word ‘interface’ making this a pertinent title since it references Antarctica and at the same time focuses in on the parallels between image-making and scientific processes. In both cases, understanding is often not immediate - patience and focus are required to bring content into view. In this – and in many other respects - science and art are kindred disciplines, each being a layered exploration of information and meaning.
Background on Scientific Research:
The Bowser laboratory studies a group of one-celled creatures called Foraminifera* (see Glossary), or “forams” for short, in an attempt to understand the functioning of both modern and ancient marine ecosystems. Forams are used in these studies because they produce vast fossil deposits that help paleontologists interpret past ocean and atmospheric conditions. This information is key to understanding contemporary issues such as global climate change and its impact on the environment, human health and commerce.
It is known that the life habits of forams are strongly influenced by characteristics of the sediment in which they live. Sediment grain size is thought to be the principal factor governing the biology of foram species, but other parameters – particularly the surface properties of sediment grains – are undoubtedly important. Indeed, it is the microtopology of the grains that the organisms interact with directly, so on first principles one might expect microtopology to be a primary factor. To our knowledge, however, no investigators have examined the influence of sediment grain surface microtopologies on foram biology. This lack of knowledge is primarily due to the absence of experimental approaches to tackle the problem.
Because of recent technological advances in fabricating surface topologies on silicon and glass surfaces, driven primarily by the electronics industry, we now have the tools available to address this question. For example, it is now possible to produce fields of micro- to nano-scale pegs (shown at the right) or grooves on silicon; we can then incubate forams on these surfaces to study their physiological responses.
Unfortunately, the choices of topologies that can be engineered are overwhelming, even in simple examples employing pegs or grooves. Variables can include peg height & spacing distance, groove depth, spacing between grooves, etc. In addition, the patterns generated are extremely regular, and typically offer only a single step height (essentially parallel to the planar substrate) with no angularity. Although meaningful insights could be obtained using this approach, it would be prohibitive in manufacturing cost and person-hours to explore all the possibilities. Indeed, where do we begin?
Art informing science:
In our novel Art/Science collaboration, Claire Beynon’s artwork – specifically, her Katabatikos series that were inspired by her two month stay in Sam Bowser’s Antarctic field camp – is used as a template to produce a feature-rich growth substrate for the forams.** Indeed, this micro-fabricated rendering of her Antarctic imagery produces a myriad of random topologies. Sam and Claire incubate forams on these surfaces and study their motile behavior using time-lapse video light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. This information is then used by Sam to generate hypotheses regarding specific topologies (e.g., peg or ridge spacing) for more formal experimental tests.
** Visit http://www.bowserlab.org for more information about forams and the Bowser lab’s research initiatives.
Science informing art:
In preliminary studies described in the InterfaCE Project Description (below), we show that forams adopt interesting behaviors in response to these art-inspired topologies. Our novel process of art informing science in turn provides inspiration that leads to new art by Claire. Together, the scientific images (which themselves have intrinsic aesthetic value) and their artistic interpretations, form the basis for an intriguing art exhibition. Claire also employs the “tools” used to produce the nano-textured growth substrates as prompts using other media, such as lithographs, solar plate etching and sand-blasted glass installation pieces.
In a sense, we’re cycling information through artistic, scientific, and microbial processes in a way that is analogous to how energy and resources flow through the Antarctic ecosystem. We believe that this iterative cycling of art, science, and nature represents a new creative paradigm − what scientists call a “transformative approach” − that will be widely applicable to other life science disciplines.
(A) Photograph of Katabatikos iii. Charcoal & pastel on paper (2006).
(B) Lithographic mask of Katabatikos series used for generating patterned growth substrates.
(C) Macro photograph of Astrammina rara incubated on quartz disc. The disk was spin-coated with SU-8 photoresist, overlain with the Katabatikos mask, and irradiated with ultraviolet light to create a 3-dimensional rendering.
(D) Scanning electron micrograph of the specimen shown above. Astrammina pseudopodia have extended atop a “ridge” of SU-8 and within the valley below, but not along the curved intervening space.
(E) Pen and ink reinterpretation of scanning electron micrograph shown in D. Claire was struck by the similarities between the scanning micrograph and aerial views of the Explorers Cove shoreline.
One principle aim of this collaboration is to effectively communicate scientific principles, particularly the “concept of scale (nano-to-macro and vice versa),” to general public audiences. In addition to our visual ArtScience explorations, we present public lectures describing our unique Art/Science process, and ‘take Antarctica’ to K-12 classrooms in our respective home communities (New York State Capital Region and Dunedin, NZ). Our research findings, Antarctic experiences, and images obtained from the collaboration provide a rich new source of materials for these educational outlets.
Educational facilitation also occurs with students at Skidmore College, a liberal arts institution located in Saratoga, NY. The Director of the Skidmore College Tang Art Museum agreed to cooperate with us in presenting the InterfaCE installation at their facility, and have supported the development of a cross-disciplinary microscopy/art class under the direction of Dr. David Domozych in Skidmore’s Biology Department.
Further discussion on INTERFACE
For the purposes of the Tang Museum presentation, Claire has created a sequence of new images, using her earlier Antarctica drawings and Sam’s SEM photographs as prompts. Circular in format, these drawings are ‘static echoes’ of the images used in Sam’s microscopy and microlithography processes. They also bring to mind the lens of the camera and microscope, the iris of the eye ((i.e. ways of seeing), music notes, the globe, etc… In its completed form as an artscience installation, INTERFACE is effectively a large mandala, a series of ever-widening concentric circles. The circle is, of course, a powerful and timeless universal symbol; it represents integration and wholeness. Our circular drawings and SEM images also suggest connections to the Antarctic ice and sediment cores currently being processed in a bid to find answers to concerns about climate change.
As a museum piece, INTERFACE may seem to focus in primarily on aesthetic form and creative expression, but this work also has important scientific and educational outcomes. For example, biomedical researchers have recently demonstrated that nanoscale surface topography influences the growth and behavior of human cells, and that these interactions have profound medical implications (e.g., prosthetics, implants).
As far as we know, this work is the first to explore ways in which Antarctic microorganisms are influenced by topographic features similar in scale to that of their native environments; by analogy we anticipate that the ecological implications will prove to be comparably profound. The use of artistic imagery will provide a powerful link between human and microbial experiences, and thus educate the public in new and exciting ways.
Following the lead exhibition, or concomitantly with it, Skidmore art and science students Megan Garfinkel, Simon Gunner, Paul Hisaya Ishii, Amanda King and Charles Nicholson will present their unique works, highlighting collaborative and interpretive principles of these oft-considered disparate disciplines.
The United States and New Zealand have long been respectful partners when it comes to Antarctic research. In line with IPY objectives, INTERFACE will offer visitors to the gallery a dynamic, multi-layered experience.
Sam and Claire gratefully acknowledge the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programsfor awarding them a grant to develop this project.
INTERFACE will be exhibited a second time in the DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY as part of the New Zealand International Science Festival. This ‘Everyday Science’ exhibition also showcases ArtScience work by Nicola Gibbons and Jennifer Fretwell. (5 – 13 July 2008)
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
* Foraminifera – otherwise known as ‘forams;’ these important uni-cellular aquatic organisms underpin our ecological and evolutionary pyramids and, as such, their importance in scientific and environmental terms is significant. Increased under-standing of these microscopic creatures may well provide clues - and even solutions - to a wide range of globally relevant questions, ranging from climate change to the origins of our own species.
A great deal of attention is being appropriately paid to the destruction of our earth’s rain forests and to diminishing fossil fuel reserves. What few people realize is that the microcosmic world is also one that we need to pay very close attention to. Uni-cellular organisms are in fact the foundation of all known life. Persistent neglect of our earth’s ‘larger,’ more overtly popular resources will threaten the stability of this foundation – an insidious process, and more likely the one that might ultimately ‘bring the whole house down.’
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THE JOURNEY HOME - Antarctica texts for composer JOHN DRUMMOND's new work (with Bill Manhire and Chris Orsman; premier in Dunedin, NZ on 8 September 2012)