PHO705: Research Artsci, Communicating Science Visually, Computational Biology and a new Avante-Garde

Following the visit to the Wellcome Museum, it was clear that others must be working in an area where art is created from science.

Artsci is the term coined in the book (Miller, 2014) where Artsci acknowledges a convergence of Arts, Science and Technology.

Colliding Worlds – How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art (Miller 2014)

The work in bulk extensively sells the market for Artsci, by giving innumerable personal reflections on individual contributor after individual contributor, yet this is rebalanced in the final chapter by doubts over the acceptance of Artsci in restricted / specialist galleries being deemed almost gimmicky as an art form. However, examples are made in the ending of the rejection of Picasso and the Impressionists who had to set up their own groups. And so it is left to the reader as to whether or not to take up the “cause” of Artsci.

Millar describes the technical evolution of technology in computing in this book (Millar, 2014). So much resonates with my early career in technology as a world in which artist and scientist no longer are viewed strictly different disciplines. Art and science and engineering are disciplines seen as having a conceptual touchpoint in terms of methodologies e.g. minimalism and cubism.

An electronic signal called a butterfly transform, photographed on Polaroid film, was one of my earliest technical visualisations. I designed and built an electronic circuit to automatically tune to a signal frequency of a type used to communicate with deep space satellites. The active tuning process was viewed on an oscilloscope and the overall capture presented on film. During development one of the early characteristics was that of a squegging oscillator which pulsed on and off due to design tolerance issue in this automatic circuit. This was around the time that a successful MSc application was made to study the subject of Cybernetics that involves the control of machinery using feedback and software controllers. A funding issue arose that prevented the place from being taken up. Besides this, an economic downturn occurred that would certainly have blocked an immediate return to research and development within the industry.

The book runs a direct parallel to my early involvement in computing, discusses the various technological art movements and the establishment of schools for such art.

The book also discriminates between Media and Fine Art the former being linked to crafts and it notes the rejection that occurred on many fronts.

However, with repeated incursions of technology into art and advances in the modern world, it is argued that contemporary art can no longer exist without the structures and knowledge of the scientific world and they are seen to combine.

Artists are seen to look towards science and without getting directly involved with expensive equipment instead read the ideas and then through contemporary art communicate these ideas. Scientists look towards artists to understand how they approach a topic e.g. Nils Bhor and the wave-particle dichotomy of physics and the resolution of this through Picasso and the advent of Cubism, where it is fine to have multiple perspectives present all at once.

The question has to be where does this lead to in terms of the Final photo project? Well, it resolves why the author takes a technological view of art and provides an independent and solid standing. The intent of the work becomes understood in the wider context.

The book identifies the avant-garde as being the convergence of art, science and technology and it is seen as an exciting frontier in Contemporary art.

There is a summary for Antony Gormley, his influences including in science, and his work which was on display in London during visits there.

Another outcome is a strengthened resolve so as to honour or be true to one’s life experiences. Otherwise work would remain conflicted.

Had this work been uncovered earlier in the course, there would have been the time need to develop programmed work such as animations. These would be over and above the glow images attributed to mtDNA. What there is also are elements of identification (determined through psychoanalysis).

The book has been difficult to put down and yet the historical side has to stop at some point to allow time for project progress.

Computational Biology – Human Proteome Folding

Following a career in research and development in electronics and computing, sometime later, there was a formative even if only a side involvement in grid computing donating spare machine cycles to do then return completed calculations to researchers in computational biology. This was in the search for new drug treatments.

Specifically, spare machine cycles were donated to human proteome folding projects. These projects are highly visual as protein formation and attachment is shape-dependent.

These projects go back to around 2004 and there is little visual material remaining. In lieu of this, a TEDtalk was discovered that ably shows the visuals (Dill, 2013).

For 50 years, the “protein folding problem” has been a major mystery. How does a miniature string-like chemical — the protein molecule – encode the functions of living organisms: how our muscles exert force, how our immune systems reject pathogens, how our eyes see our surroundings, how plants convert solar energy, and all the rest. Huge progress is being made. Moreover, these amazing nano-machines could play important roles in health and disease and commerce in the future.

(Dill, 2013)

What this post identifies is what is behind the intent in making the photo project.

Art of Now

Research uncovered a BBC Radio 4 broadcast Art of Now. (McNamee, 2019)

Recombinant Rhymes and DNA Art

The successful sequencing of the human genome has not only had huge implications for medicine, bio-technology and the life sciences – but it has also provoked a great and growing reaction among artists and writers.

Anna McNamee meets poets, visual artists and scientists collaborating creatively on the frontiers of DNA science in a genre that Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of AI Renaissance Arthur Miller calls Art Sci.

In Melbourne, the bio-animator Drew Berry tells how his dramatic but scientifically exact visualizations of cellular and molecular processes have earned him fans around the world – including the musician Bjork. 

The poet Sue Dymoke and the structural biologist Pietro Roversi reveal how their creative partnership has resulted in a three-dimensional, topsy turvy poem called DNA Time that mimics DNA’s unique and complex structure. 

In his lab, the Canadian experimental poet Christian Bök has successfully encoded his work into the DNA of a bacterium creating what is essentially a living poem.

While at the European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge, the artist and filmmaker Charlotte Jarvis and the scientist Dr Nick Goldman have stored music in DNA which they then suspended in a soap solution and used to blow bubbles, quite literally, bathing their audiences in music.”

(McNamee, 2019)

Drew Berry

Drew Berry is a biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. He produces animations of proteins and protein complexes to illustrate cellular and molecular processes (Berry, 2011).


Animation Development

Berry describes the molecular level being sub-light wavelength and how he gained inspiration from the accurate scale drawings of David Goodsell:

Beyond this Berry incorporates measurements of cell dynamics and microscopic observations of larger cell structures to create his animations. His intent is to make work that viewers can take-in with avoidance of technical descriptions and acronyms which otherwise make the subject opaque and turn off the viewer (Berry, 2012)

Animations from Berry and molecular biologists and cell biologists:


Berry, D. (2011) Animations of unseeable biology. Australia: TEDxSydney. Available at:

Berry, D. (2012) Communicating Science Visually. USA: The Broad Institute. Available at:

Dill, K. (2013) The protein folding problem: a major conundrum of science. TEDxSBU: TED Talks. Available at:

McNamee, A. (2019) ‘Art of Now Recombinant Rhymes and DNA Art’. A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4. Available at:

Miller, A. I. (2014) Colliding Worlds – How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art. New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company. Available at:

PHO705: Research – Phantasmagoria


Having recently communicated progress and details of research themes for the Major Project, the action has triggered several responses in terms of recommended reads. The objective remains to build research into the contextualisation of practice while developing the visual language.

This blog post concerns Phantasmagoria Spirit Visions, Metaphors and Media into the Twenty-first Century. (Warner, 2006) Ideas of “spirit”, “soul” and the “supernatural”.


The book (Warner, 2006) challenges why it still is that in the 21st century we revert to ideas of “spirit”, “soul” and the “supernatural”.

Scanning through this text there are two areas of immediate interest with regard to the photo project. First is a quotation.

“You are on a mission to discover

why the human heart still slows

when divers break the surface,

why mermaids still swim in our dreams”

“Michael Symmons Roberts, Mapping the Genome”

With a project theme majoring on DNA there is almost a necessity for discovering why Warner included a reference to the Genome. (Warner, 2006) opposite Page xviii

Further search shows that Symmons Roberts in 2003, soon after the Human Genome was decoded, penned another poem about the Mapping of the Genome and written in a metaphorical style of a car journey along a seemingly unending straight desert road.

Other areas of the text that prompt immediate interest are Part V Shadow Part VI Mirror: Double Vision, The Camera steals the Soul, and Part VII Ghost: Stay this Moment, Julia Margaret Cameron and Charles Dodgson; Spectral Rappers, Psychic Photographers.

Topics with a stronger connection to photography than literature demand more attention in the project context.

Online Video Lectures

The book author is a renowned presenter and her interviews, presentations and lectures are available to view online. This gives quite a quick view over a range of subject matter.

Much of what is presented is based around stories and fairytales and is literature-based rather than strictly photography based.



Warner, M. (2006) Phantasmagoria Spirit Visions, Metaphors and Media into the Twenty-first Century. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

PHO705: Week 9 Reflection

My reflections on Week 9.

Research has become focussed on the Psychoanalytical for example in terms of ghosts. And as below the ideas of Science in Art have been explored.

Work in Progress: There are some textbooks to finish researching.

To Do: Other books on the history and development of abstract art, hanging over from a previous module. The importance here is to more fully develop an understanding of the evolution of the art. Also, there is a desire to contrast and compare with other artists abstract work to fix in place the photo project.

A collection of FMP photographs has been catalogued and are in the backlog queue and production rate has picked up. Photography of healing continues and images are being processed. In one case it was a relief to obtain the first Ghost image of this series:

Week 9 Revenant 1 by Michael Turner

Another image is of a graphic type and serves as a representation from DNA testing and might be expected to form an image layer as part of the contextualising process.

Week 9 DNA Analysis by Michael Turner

Some colour images have also been made while ideas are being formed. As such they are individual examples of technique or aesthetic stylisation. The main priority has been to maintain practice – concentrated periods are need to explore and develop the image types.

Here is this week’s example of a glow image:

Week 9 Untitled by Michael Turner

This week’s example of an abstract Landscape image:

Week 9 Landscape by Michael Turner

A rendition of a pure abstract in Week 8 harks back to the saturated colour theme from earlier portfolios. There is a personal joy to this image as at exhibition in the summer there were requests for two such images to be made complete with a third. This looks like the missing third image:

Week 9 Colour Abstract by Michael Turner

At present these are partial works and it is plain to see there is no attempt at consistency as ideas remain open. Once the direction is decided the work can properly proceed.

Social interaction occurred in making this week and was a joy too. This continues to be motivational. The making is also a pleasant break from the reading and research.

Blog Posts

The post: Research Artsci, Communicating Science Visually, Computational Biology and a new Avante-Garde was blogged and has spilt over into Week 10.

This post connects an earlier technological career with an analysis of this scene as a motivator in the current photo project and stands alongside the more psychoanalytical regarding the strangeness of abstract images created.

In creating the post the photo project became more connected. Answers were found to questions such as how animations at the cellular and molecular levels were resolved. Further validation and extension of an understanding of Biology occurred. This allows the topics to spoken of with greater clarity. The connection between Biology and Art was explored and parallels drawn with art forms such as poetry and music.

It is clear that recent medical progress is so significant that we have entered a new era and as we do so we witness the integration of Art, Science, Engineering and Technology into a new field simply described as Research.

Guest Lectures

One of two Guest Lectures was blogged as the Week 8 lecture was replayed in Week 9. Guest Lecture with Andy Hughes. Andy talked about the environment in terms of plastics and global warming as well as the making of a film using a gaming platform.

To Do: Another Guest Lecture, provided as a recording will be caught up with, in due course: Guest Lecture (Publication) – Sarah Davidmann.

PHO705: Guest Lecture (Publication) – Sarah Davidmann (Uncut)

Sarah is a lecturer at London’s LCC

Here is the lecture. The main photographic project is based on letters between sisters over a hidden relationship that of a secret transgender female Ken married to one of the sisters known as aunt Hazel. All this was at a time when there was no recognition or language to frame identities.

Identity was sympathetically dealt with and Ken becomes K(ay) and her or she.

There is a book “Ken – to be destroyed”. This began as a small personal project but created an unexpected level of interest. The conversation led to working on the project and exhibiting in Liverpool. There were uncertainties from gaps in the texts.

Sarah found more including family photographs. As she worked with the materials this led to working physically in the darkroom as a natural extension of handling physical materials. The working with a family archive was a first for Sarah.

The work is robust having nowadays a universal message of identity. The work presents well as small groups of images and as a book.

The book was a collaboration with Val Williams who helped with the edit that combined family archive material with Sarah’s work. Working collaboratively proved very useful.

Both Sarah and today’s host began their artistic lives as painters.

The personal aspects were seen to be of interest to audiences. There is a universality of family with all the problems family present that viewers can insert themselves into.

Another aspect of the German Jewish family is the next piece of work. It is still, based on family history but now covers the Holocaust. The project is approached from a very personal perspective and in an intimate way. An album carried on the Kindertransport is a material source for this new work.

Final Photo Project

Sarah’s project was allowed to develop and that is important compared to planning exactly how the work should be from the outset.

A point in common is the use of family archive photographs. High-resolution scanning, alternative processing of the images and concentrating on the surface condition are strong elements of Sarah’s work. Obliteration of identity became a step in which aunt was translated into clothing only or into the uncle.

This compares with using the photos for the final photo project which are scanned for smaller size reproduction. The idea was not to overwhelm the abstract images at the core of the project. Recently one image from the archive was layered with an image of mitochondrial glow and connecting thus with an ancestor from the maternal line. This has a key significance.

The history of a family is also common as is the impact of 20th-century war.


Photographs Sarah Davidmann from Falmouth Guest Lecture