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.
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Days 8/9 (April 8th+9th)
Yesterday we decided to take a day out to visit the zoo to gather some inspiration for the artwork. Below are some of the photos we took, as well as captions describing some of the thoughts and ideas they gave us.
Here are some pictures of aquatic species we looked at. To the left is a bladder-tip anemone and to the bottom right are simply 'upside down jellyfish' (yes they're really called that). Both these species gave a beautiful flowing movement and colour, something that would be really nice to replicate in the sphere. The fish here is a good example of iridescence. Replicating the appearance of these scales could be an interesting idea.
These are some of the photos we took in the butterfly and bug houses. The beetle had a wonderful bright, purple colour that was very eye-catching. We also caught a photo of a locust just as it shed its skin! There is probably plenty of material that could be used to represent shed insect skins which could make an interesting piece of artwork. The butterflies also had some interesting patterns and stick insects are always fun to look at. In the bottom right is a cute photo of a couple of locusts : )
Here are a few photos of plants we saw in some of the displays. The climbers here are examples of the sort of thing we thought could potentially be coerced into coiling around the support netting for the spheres.
We found these lovely displays of metal dragonflies in the zoo, as well as an area on responsible waste disposal which had some artwork constructed of old rubbish. These were interesting displays of the various media with which artwork can be constructed from.
And here are just some cute animal photos, enjoy!
The Next Day
Today we spent most of our time finishing off our models.
These pieces of work were experiments to show, in brief, what some inorganic
materials could do and their potential for making structures that could
represent biological ideas. All the models that we made were things where the
organic equivalent could not be used, in these cases, because the real version
is so tiny!
My finished beetle, top and underside
Jess's painted cocolithophore, the image below is what she used as reference
All our models posing together! They were all painted with acrylic (mostly metallic) paint.
Some unintentional art here, the paint water from our models could be stirred to make very pretty moving patterns, it could be an idea to try the solar-powered motor with it if starts to work, (see below).
The solar powered motor for the moss ball tank also arrived
today. Unfortunately the day was extremely overcast that the motor barely
worked! We set it up but it looks like we'll have to wait for a sunnier day to
see it work properly.
The solar powered motor
Jessica also spent part of today sending out emails and looking at websites
for the purpose of ordering more equipment for the project and trying to
arrange to see more people. She called a lady called Hilary at the Botanic
garden to arrange a possible meeting with someone who could help us out with
selecting a good type of climbing plant. Hilary said that if we sent her an email
with all the information she would forward it to someone who would be more able
to help us. Hopefully we’ll get a response soon. We did do some independent
research in this area as well, looking on the internet at ivy and pea plants but
we weren’t sure with our lack of knowledge in this area about what to go for.
Considering our limited time, we want something that will grow as quickly as
possible, just so we can experiment with how it would coil around cord.
Jessica also emailed another life-science artist called Melanie awhile back
to try and arrange a meeting to discuss ideas and directions. We got a reply
but unfortunately she is too busy for quite some time for an in-person
conversation. On the plus side however, she did agree to have a Skype chat with
us tomorrow. Jessica also briefly looked up David Glowaki, a chemist at Bristol
who has also worked with science/art, but in his case, in the form of dance.
Lastly, we looked at ordering some iridescent tubes, but without much luck.
In one case the company would not ship the product outside of the US or Canada,
and in another the postage was about three times the price of the product
itself, which we considered too expensive.
More Meetings with Annette
We finished up the day with going to visit Annette once more to take a look
at our algae that we set up awhile ago. Unfortunately it hadn't particularly
grown at all. The agar was still reluctant to set on the glass and any algae
that had grown were in a small pool at the bottom of the flask. Annette kindly
said that she would try once more to get the agar to set properly, this time
using a flask that was dry on the inside, as we speculated before that it was
moisture that was preventing the agar from sticking. Annette also had a suspicion that maybe it wasn't sticking
because it was glass,and that it may do on plastic. We did however think that
we would have to be a bit more creative in our ideas for what would work with
the algae. Even if the next test showed that the agar would stick to the
outside of the flask, the practicalities of making this in large spheres and
maintaining them would be difficult.
Photo of the failed algae experiment
In our search for new ideas, Annette showed us these plates in which algae
had been 'drawn' onto the agar using an inoculation loop. I immediately saw
potential in this idea. Using agar on a flat service both allowed for this
accurate technique of applying algae, as well as the ability to precisely swirl
the agar into patterns like we initially wanted. The plates are also long
lasting (the plate in the photo below had been made in October) and very easily
prepared. The question is how to transfer these algae grown on flat services
I came up with a couple of ideas of how we could get around this problem. My
first thought was that we could grow patterned algae onto large, flat sheets
and then suspend these sheets inside a sphere, (assuming the sphere could be
pulled into two halves for them to be inserted). However, Annette told me that
the agar may just slide off the sheets if they were held at an angle and visually
I decided I didn’t like this idea after all.
My second idea was to perhaps have a sort of netting inside this sphere as well
as outside it. In this netting, agar plates could be suspended. The agar plates
could contain all different kinds of algae of different colours and patterns.
This would be very easy to prepare and maintain. For a more aesthetically pleasing
version, we could use very small spheres instead of plates. In little spheres,
the fact that the algaewas reluctant to
grow in a spherical container would probably not be so much of an issue and
having spheres in a net in a sphere in a net, would probably look very
We saw this green tubing awhile ago and it gave Jessica an idea then about
growing algae inside tubes. I thought that using very thin tubing filled with
algae would be a pretty and fitting way to construct the net or support in
which the plates or small spheres could be suspended.
The photo of the flasks is showing the importance of getting air into the tubes
if we were to use this idea, and in general that there would need to be a small
amount of fresh air getting into the sphere itself for the algae to grow
properly. The flask on the left is where the container wasn't completely
airtight. The algae grew quite happily and made a beautiful green colour. In
the other case the flask was completely sealed and the algae struggled to grow,
the colour been dim.
We finished off our meeting by arranging to meet next Tuesday at 2pm to try out some drawing onto the agar plates. We'll also find out then if the agar will stick at all to glass.