Faulconer Gallery Exhibition Explores the Relationship Between Art and Biology

January 30, 2018

Lesley Wright, director of the Faulconer Gallery, and Jonathan “Jackie” Brown, professor of biology at Grinnell College, have teamed up to co-curate an exhibition that explores the process of visualization in art and biology.

Their search for works to be included in Making Life Visible yielded many artists who draw their inspiration from the natural world at every scale, as well as scientists who artistically display the subjects of their studies.

Fred Hagstrom, Radiolaria Series

Fred Hagstrom, “Radiolaria Series,” 2011, silkscreen on paper, 19 x 13 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

The free, public exhibition of 110 works will open Friday, Feb. 2, in Faulconer Gallery, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. It will continue through June 10, featuring works from 16 contemporary artists and scientists, as well as historical material from the 16th to 19th centuries.

“Our exhibition inspires both with its art and its science,” Wright says. As the gallery’s director, she enjoys working with faculty in different disciplines and crafting interdisciplinary exhibitions. Having considered double majoring in biology as a student, Wright has a special interest in the overlap between art and science, and has worked with Brown in the past.

“We knew art and biology were closely connected in the past, but were amazed by the diversity of work created by artist/scientists today,” Brown says.

Making Life Visible was inspired by Brown’s research project exploring color patterns in Hawaiian damselflies. Brown will discuss his research on the evolution of color and shape in Hawaiian damselflies at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Both the study and art installation have been funded, in part, by a National Science Foundation grant that Brown applied for with his former student Idelle Cooper ‘01. Now an assistant professor of biology at James Madison University, she teaches courses in insect ecology, evolution, and biological illustration. Cooper’s drawings and prints emphasize how an artistic practice can refine an ability to see things in the field.

Cooper double majored in biology and art at Grinnell, conducting research in collaboration with Brown, and developing her practice in watercolors with her art adviser, Bobbie McKibbin, professor emerita of art. Cooper’s scientific research has focused on the evolution of shape and coloration in damselflies and stickleback fishes. In addition to watercolor, her art practices include paper-cutting and linocut prints, as ways to understand habitats through their variations in color and luminance.

Cooper will give a biology seminar on her research of mating interactions in Jewelwing damselflies at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6, in Robert N. Noyce ‘45 Science Center, Room 2022.

Damien Laudier, Scorpion Blood

Damien Laudier, “Scorpion Blood,” 2017, photomicrograph, 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition also will feature works by David S. Goodsell, a molecular biologist and associate professor at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. His lab researches the molecular structure and function of drug resistance in HIV. He works with the lab scientists to develop images of their discoveries, using form and color to highlight molecular and cellular events too small to see. “I’ve been lucky to work at a level of biological scale that is largely invisible to experiment,” he says, “making artistic visualization a central tool for intuition and understanding.”

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Goodsell also writes and creates the illustrations for a column called “Molecule of the Month” for the Protein Data Bank, an archive of the 3D protein structures of 18,000 different molecules. Structural chemists, biomedical researchers, geneticists, and educators use this resource. Goodsell’s paintings, drawings, and computer-generated illustrations of molecules and cells have been displayed in galleries and featured on the covers of magazines and science journals.

Some of the artists featured in Making Life Visible will participate in a public conversation about “Art, Biology and Visualization” at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, in Faulconer Gallery in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. Curators Wright and Jackie Brown will provide opening remarks and then pose questions to the panel of artists.

A reception at 4 p.m. will follow, where exhibition artists will join visitors to celebrate the art on view. Refreshments will be served.

Tara Shukla, Skull

Tara Shukla, “Skull,” 2016, charcoal on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Thanks to Artists@Grinnell, visitors will have the unusual opportunity to observe an artist’s process at Community Day, February 24 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and on March 6 and 7 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., when Tara Shukla will spend time drawing in the gallery and engaging in conversation about her work. “My drawings are based upon specimens I borrowed from Grinnell College’s Biology Department that I then sketched and photographed before creating a larger, composite image,” Shukla says. “When drawing, I am absorbed by the task of paying attention and accurately rendering forms and surfaces.”

Artist and researcher Gemma Anderson, a visiting international fellow from the University of Falmouth in the United Kingdom, will be on the Grinnell campus as an artist-in-residence from April 1-21. She will teach a short course: Art/Bio Investigations through Drawing. She also will speak about her work at 4 p.m. on April 12.

Anderson’s work considers ways in which drawing as a research practice can enhance morphological insight, specifically within the natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy, and art. Her book, Drawing as a Way of Knowing in Art and Science, was published in 2017. Her fellowship is co-sponsored by Grinnell’s Institute for Global Engagement and the Biology Department. 

At 4 p.m. on April 23, Barrett Klein, associate professor of behavioral biology at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, will discuss his art and insect subjects. Klein, who is passionate about both scientific visualization and cultural entomology, has worked as an educator, scientific illustrator, model maker, filmmaker, curator of entomology, and a sleep laboratory researcher in insomnia treatment studies.

He has published a number of scientific papers, including a collaborative study describing “Caste-dependent Sleep in Worker Honey Bees” in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Animal Behaviour published his paper titled “Faux frogs: Multimodal signaling and the value of robotics in the study of animal behavior” (two of the faux frogs will be on exhibit). He simultaneously produces scientific art works such as videos, illustrations, and models, as well as museum and gallery exhibitions.

Faulconer Gallery has a complete list of all Making Life Visible events and participating artists. Gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, although the gallery is closed on major holidays.

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