MICROBIOMES JURIED ART SHOW "Creating Communities" OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY May 2017
"Molecular Components of Internal Chemical Warfare"
The artwork here references molecules that facilitate communication between bacteria and their hosts. Protein A is the coat protein on Staphylococcus aureus that is used by the bacteria to avoid the host immune system when S. aureus slip from their desired roles and instead make us ill. Our bodies send macrophages to envelop the invader with oxidants, peroxide and bleach. These organisms aim to kill rogue bacteria and thus protect from such invaders. However, bacteria like Escherichia coli can fight back, producing catalase, which eliminates peroxide in us so that we don’t kill off the E. coli. We have a constant biological, chemical warfare being waged at the microscopic level, with potential macro results. The world of microbiomes exists within us in delicate balance. We need bacteria in certain places, but we need them to stay where they belong. If they get into the wrong place, we get undesirable conditions such as sepsis or other illness.
The desire to make art out of what we see at the microscopic level began 3 years ago with one artist’s aesthetic enchantment with what was on view inside the lab and on the scientific posters in the hallways of the Ag Building at Oregon State University – plus a desire to understand what she was seeing. This term, faculty mentors Shelley Ilene Jordan and Dr. Ryan Mehl were instrumental in supporting an interdisciplinary exploration of the art and science of the worlds within world of microbes. The Biophysics/Biochemistry Program invited the artist to roam the lab and engage with its researchers. Carefully, very carefully!
What resulted was a collaboration between an artist and two scientist/ researchers who hold leadership positions in the Mehl lab. Together we produced an installation set consisting of oil paintings, encaustic wax paintings and sculptures, and two videos gesturing towards the fascinating materials, methods, colors, shapes, sounds and textures of this special laboratory. Exploring the microbial world is another way of exploring nature. There is inspiration everywhere in the laboratory.
We made some surprising discoveries of our own as a team. Experiments in art and science have many parallels. We learned to communicate across disciplines. Our conversations were instructive, sometimes funny, and even disagreements were thoughtful and exploratory as we wrestled with the tug of science towards accuracy and art towards abstraction. There is precision, happy and frustrating surprises, and creativity in both arenas. The artist learned some science, and the scientists made interesting comments such as: “I’ve been working on this protein for years but never understood its structure so well as when I tried to sculpt it here.” Letting go of direct accuracy allowed for new insights into process as well as beauty.
“Creating communities” gained literal and metaphorical meaning as we explored the aesthetic and scientific aspects of the microbial communities, but also made friends and colleagues of each other in ways we hope continue long into the future.
Amy Isler Gibson True Gibson Riley Bednar
Video #1: My Chemical Romance, Amy Gibson, True Gibson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Llad_Mfyb9s
Video #2: The Art of Science, Amy Gibson, True Gibson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DumOISNF5qY