Monday, December 9, 2013

Cubism. Realism. Sciencism.

Post-impressionist carcinoma.

This week's post from me will be relatively brief as I am currently on honeymoon, and although Shaun somehow manages to find time on his travels to blog about his conference experiences I doubt my new wife would be too happy if I did likewise! So, in lieu of my intended Human Machine series post (which will be coming early in the new year), I wanted to bring your attention to something wonderful going on at the Cell Picture Show.

The Cell Picture Show has appeared in the Trenches before (here and here), but this recent instalment is to me even more original and interesting than anything they've had before. The image above has two halves, both of which are strikingly reminiscent of Van Gogh's famous and beautiful Starry Night. They look like the product of some brilliant mind with an extraordinary mastery of colour and texture. In fact, the image on the left is a cross section of mouse skin containing basal skin carcinoma, with various components stained different colours and imaged using a fluorescence microscope. The image on the right is an artist's rendering of the same image using different coloured fabrics stitched together. This is part of Cell's exhibition 'Art Under the Microscope', in which images of biological samples are recreated into works of art by professional artists. The image above is just one example, but there are many others of similar standard available in the exhibition. The technical prowess of the researchers who obtained the original images is impressive, as are the aesthetic abilities of the artists who recreated them.

A fire-like network of neural stem cells in the human brain (left) and their artistic equivalent (right).

What I find so exciting about this exhibition is that it is redefining what can be the subject of art, and what can be the source of artistic inspiration. Nature has been inspiring artists for thousands of years, why should that be restricted to what we can see with our own eyes? We are now at a level of technology that we can begin to unveil many of the secrets that nature had previously been hiding from art. This should be exciting to both scientists and artists. Artists can be excited by the wealth of new subject matter that is beginning to open up to them, and scientists can be excited by the prospect of art adding to the ever-growing popularity and appreciation of science. Perhaps one day there will be great debates in artistic circles about new avant-garde artists who paint their proteins in a controversial way, much like the debates between the surrealists and romanticists on how to depict more macroscopic areas of nature. 

Although 'Art Under the Microscope' is a small exhibition, it nonetheless marks a growing trend in the use of science as inspiration for art. I sincerely hope that this continues as it will enrich both science and art, and help to blur the boundaries between them. Art has been very successful in entering many concious aspects of our daily lives, and we are the better for it. Science is still catching up in many regards, although to be fair it hasn't had all that long to make up the difference. If science were as exposed in the public conciousness and as everyday as art is, then I believe we would benefit similarly as we have from the ubiquity of art. The fusion of the two is a match made in heaven that is finally beginning to take hold. I look forward to the days when parks are adorned with pieces of science-based public art, and the spectrum of human endeavour is appreciated as single entity rather than as the separated, delineated pigeon holes of 'art' and 'science' as discrete subjects.