The collaboration of science and art is perhaps not something many would consider a workable match, but at Bristol University, these two disciplines are being unified to produce a piece of art to be on show at the new life-sciences building. This blog will be following our progress over the next few weeks as we research artistic ideas and their scientific plausibility. Our aim: to help create a hopefully unique and eye catching piece that represents the work of all the life-science departments.
Sunday, 7 April 2013
Well I'm back and I hope everyone had a very nice Easter! Unfortunately
I had to take a couple of days off so this post is a little late but I'll be
posting about Jessica's solo work on Wednesday and Thursday as well as our
joint work on Friday.
Meeting Tom Pitman
On Friday morning we went to see Tom Pitman in the experimental greenhouses
to discuss the practicalities of growing plants in spheres. Here we were
informed of some of the limitations and problems with incorporating them into
an artwork. These included that first of all we'd need to avoid deciduous
plants, as these would lose their leaves and wouldn't look very aesthetically
pleasing over winter. We also had to consider the practicalities of watering
the plants and then pruning them so that they didn't grow out of control. We concluded
that this sphere would need to be low-down and easily accessible to accommodate
for the essential maintenance. Our vision was that tendrils would eventually
coil around the wired supports and grow beautifully out of the sphere and
around the artwork. I had an idea that instead of planting in spheres, we could
grow climbing plants around the bases of the wired supports and have them coil
around those alone; maybe they could even climb up and coil around the banisters
in time. This would probably make maintenance a lot easier, plus we could use
the sphere for something else. Other factors to consider in choosing a species
would be the temperature and humidity of the atrium.
Photos from inside the greenhouses.
Suggestions for possible climbers included the black pepper, cheese plants
and passion flowers. Air plants such as bromeliads and Spanish moss could also
be an option. These species do not root in soil and extract their required
moisture out of the atmosphere; the artist has also used them in previous work.
It would however require careful moderation of the sphere’s humidity to ensure
their survival. The discussion ended with a recommendation to talk to Penny
Harms as she may be able to help us at the botanic garden. Tom Pitman also
kindly said that he would give us a list of plants that were used on the wild walk
at the harbour side to help us in our research.
Later on in the day we spent the a few hours working on our models. Jessica
had made great progress with hers during my absence, finishing both a
radiolarian and a clump of cocolithophores. In our time today she got ahead
with painting them, experimenting with a black and silver colour scheme for the
radiolarian. I still had a lot of modrock to apply on my beetle and spent till
near 3 o clock completing it to hopefully begin painting on Monday. Below are
some photos of our progress.
Jessica's radiolarian and cocolithophores modrocked
Jessica's radiolarian being painted
A comparison of my beetle after and before been modrocked.
Research and Orders
I got a reply to my email to the sphere making company,
giving us a quote for the price of their products. They could make us a 200mm
diameter sphere, 3mm thick with a removable cap of clear polycarbonate for £43
(excluding VAT and delivery) or a 300mm diameter for £54. The company could unfortunately
not give us a guarantee that the product would survive the autoclaving
procedure however, just thoughts that it likely would. Feeling that these
prices were a little steep, especially with no guarantee of the product’s
hardiness, we decided to investigate the glass workshop attached to the
university. Unfortunately their glass blower was off sick this day but we had a
chat with someone else none the less to discuss options and will return sometime
next week for further enquiries. Getting the spheres from the university definitely
has a positive in that they'll know a lot more about autoclaving and could
likely tell us for certain how the material would behave under such conditions.
The company’s product however does seem very much what we do need and it would certainly
be worth considering for experiments where autoclaving was not an essential or
needed at all, (if the university workshop couldn't produce a similar product
Further developments over the last few days have also included quite a few
orders and more research for possible products we could obtain. Jessica ordered
for us a mushroom growing kit, to the left is an image of the type of mushrooms
it grows. The type we bought are perhaps not the most interesting variety,
however other species were both more expensive and had to be ordered from
abroad which drastically increased the delivery time. We found out after
ordering our beetle shells that they likely wouldn’t arrive until mid-May, so
we decided for the mushrooms to order something that would arrive quickly so we
could start growing as soon as possible.
We were also looking at ordering some iridescent tubing for experimenting
with the spheres' wired support. It's not a bad price of around $7 and looks to
give a very nice effect. For the moment however we did purchase some thick,
silvery cord from a local art shop.
The moss balls have been a popular idea. Not only do they
look great but they are also beneficial for keeping water free of algae by
outcompeting them for nutrients. The first stand out problem as I mentioned in
my last post, was that while they look great when moving around, when they come
to a standstill in the water they don’t look quite so striking. This problem
will hopefully be fixed by Jessica's great idea to order a solar powered motor
to keep the water a little turbulent. We will be very much looking forward to
it arriving so we can try it out!