Biology as the New Art Medium
Art as biology? Biology as art?
Skeptics become believers when international visiting fellow Marta de Menezes describes her work and that of her students in the short course "Biology as a New Art Medium."
De Menezes, who is artistic director of an experimental art laboratory in the Gulbenkian Science Institute in Oeiras, Portugal, artfully combines the techniques of scientific inquiry with studio art. The Grinnell students lucky enough to enroll in her over-subscribed short course are also combining basic research techniques with collaborative art projects for eventual display in Noyce Science Center.
Students in the short course--some art, some biology--spend Mondays and Wednesdays in a biology lab and Fridays in a Bucksbaum art studio, creating art pieces that de Menezes says reflect "lateral thinking."
"All science students need to think more creatively," the artist says, "and art students need to take the theoretical from the studio to the lab." Her students also benefit from her own works--installations of live butterflies, zebra fish, fruit flies and human beings; nucleic painting; folding proteins; 3D images of live neurons; and MRI self-portraits.
"Biology offers a new medium for artists to explore," de Menezes explains of her work. "Interpreting the scientific knowledge and manipulating life itself is art."
Grinnell students also benefit from her extensive network of international artists. Her first visit to campus was during spring semester as one of the featured artists in the "Where are you from?" Portuguese exhibition at Faulconer Gallery. She and gallery director Lesley Wright first met in Portugal where Wright was doing research for the Faulconer exhibition. Wright later worked with de Menezes to develop the short course proposal and is her campus host until de Menezes returns to Portugal at the end of September.
"I am impressed with how hard-working Grinnell students are," the artist said. "The liberal arts lends itself well to the historical connections between art and science; for art students to feel at home in the science building; and for biologists to find a home in the art studio."
De Menezes is one of five international visiting fellows sponsored by the Center for International Studies (CIS) this year. Each fellow is hosted by an academic department or program and is responsible for a public lecture in addition to a short course. The art course is the first-known course collaboration between the Departments of Art and Biology, facilitated by CIS and the college's objectives for interdisciplinarity.