What happens when science and art cross paths? That’s the question visiting artist Julia Buntaine is trying to answer as she explores topics such as consciousness and perception through art.
Buntaine is the Director of SciArt Center in New York City and the editor-in-chief of the SciArt Magazine. She is also the curator of the newly opened exhibition titled “Hypothetically” in the Grossman Gallery at the Williams Center for the Arts, which is being displayed from Feb. 10 to Apr. 14.
Buntaine said her personal goal is to connect science and art through her work as she believes that such “cross disciplinary work could be beneficial to our society.”
The artworks of this exhibition created by Buntaine are “experiments, initiatives, and solutions to persistent issues, from the level of the microbe to the whole of the planet,” according to the college website.
“Hypothetically” came about in order to “show one of the more interesting aspects when artists propose ideas and solutions that are not possible in the ideal world,” said Buntaine.
And as a medium for the exhibition “we can talk about the real solutions in the real world,” she added.
Director of Art Galleries and Collections Curator, Michiko Okaya, said that all the pieces are “speculative, [they] might in fact become reality. But they are really ideas that are hypothetically possible,” hence the name of the exhibition.
The exhibition includes the works of three artists, Kathy High, Jonathon Keats and Raphael Kim, who Buntaine said explore the infinite possibilities of human-science interactions in the future and how bioethics play a huge role in that.
High’s creation is about microbiomes. High, who has Crohn’s Disease, relates much of her art work to gut health and her efforts to find potential cures.
When High discovered that a transplant from a healthy person’s feces is a potential cure, High said she reached out to the late David Bowie before his death—her personal choice of donor. Fecal transplantation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “is the transfer of stool from a healthy donor into the gastrointestinal tract for the purpose of treating recurrent C. difficile colitis.”
Although Bowie never answered the request, her work raises the question of what would happen when literally “embody[ing] the biology of another.”
“Can we ever literally become more like someone else, like David Bowie?” she asked.
High dressed as Bowie to recreate the iconic pictures of him to convey the idea of transformation.
Keats tackles an even larger issue in our society. His work, titled “Pangea Optima,” provides a “solution to counter climate change by bringing us all–that is, our Earth’s continents–a bit closer together,” Butaine said.
It is an open-ended art work where audiences can speculate and even create their own “Pangea Optima,” or super-continent. There are around 35 sets of super-continental planning kits available for visitors to design their own super-continent. The kits can then be addressed to the U.N. to raise awareness of the idea of a super-continent through geoengineering as humanity’s last resort, Okaya said.
Butaine said Keats’ work raises the question: “How can we come together to solve a complex global issue when our motives, biases, and politics are defined by a country-based outlook?”
According to Buntaine, Kim and his piece “Microbial Money” tries to “predict the behavior of the economy” through microorganisms. Trained in biotechnology and having a background in pharmaceutical research, Kim “pairs the unpredictable nature of biology with the fluctuating nature of the finance industry, proposing that we use nature, on the micro-level, to guide our decisions while navigating the macro-state of the economy.”
Okaya called it the “most realistic” artwork of the three, as it could be easily experimented upon by microbiologists today.
Buntaine said Kim is trying to “fictionally cast the microbial as oracle to propose economic trends.”
“We’ve always looked into nature for science, and there exist very complex microorganisms just like our economic system,” Buntaine added.
All three pieces of artwork raise scientific and ethical questions closely related to ourselves, as stated earlier, the purpose of this exhibition is to start a conversation with students and visitors on such contemporary topics, Buntaine said.
In order to start this conversation and interaction between the gallery and visitors, a table sits in the middle of the exhibition, on it a book filled with blank sheets of paper. Visitors and students are encouraged to draw or write down their own ideas.
Buntaine said, just like the artworks featured, these student creations “are not projects in place, they are in the real world, [they are] hypothetical proposals.”
Okaya also said that even if one is unable to go down the hill to Grossman Gallery, students could submit their creations online and the gallery will print them out and add them to the collection of artworks in the book. This book will then be kept as a record by Lafayette.
Buntaine will be on campus for a curator talk on March 7. It will be followed by a conversation in Grossman Gallery to talk about the artwork and projects that connect science and art.