Abstracted: Where Science Meets Art and Music
If, as scientists, our goal is to communicate our discoveries beyone the small reach of technical journals, we need to think differently. Is it necessary that our research be so precisely communicated? Would a broader audience become interested, if engaged using another format?
This body of work is titled Abstracted. While the purpose of a scientific abstract is to distill the contents of paper, abstraction in art creates a composition that may, or may not, have a visual reference. In this show, scientific articles are abstracted to varying degrees, using different media. Each step of abstraction loses scientific data, but by becoming less literal, it encourages the viewer to be curious, to ask questions, and to participate in the work.
This show occurred in The Little Gallery, Oregon State University in 2022. Photo credits: David Paul Bayles
The discovery of a myxozoan in waterfowl took us by surprise. These parasites were thought to occur in cold-blooded vertebrates, mainly fishes. The discovery led to speculations about its relations to other myxozoans and how this parasitic relationship evolved. Artistically, the series begins with a paper collage of the manuscript, translating that into glass, then further abstracting the images and exploring these questions.
There Will be Good Years
In the language of science, graphs are stories: these graphs tell a story about climate conditions and salmon disease in the Klamath River. The data used to create these panels - fish parasite (Ceratonova shasta) abundance, water temperature, and river flow, were collected by my lab over the past 13 years. Each graph represents one calendar year, and is assigned a color based on its predicted risk for salmon, going from low risk (light) to high risk (dark).
- The three vertical panels show each variable (parasite abundance, temperature, and flow) separately, going from 2009 (top) to 2021 (bottom). By comparing variables across a year, you can predict the risk to salmon for that year, or you can search the panels for trends and patterns across years.
- A second interpretation makes comparisons on an annual basis. These 6” squares contain three graphs that plot the interwoven parameters. The top color, the background for the panel, interprets the actual risk from data collected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on parasite levels in out-migrating juvenile salmon.
In some years the predictions are accurate, while in others there are unexpected outcomes that lead me to question my assumptions – a hallmark of science.
Collaborator: Jason Fick
To look at this 13 year dataset through a different lens, composer Jason Fick applied data sonification to map real-time renderings of the data to sound parameters, challenging the listener to identify the disease signature.
Weapons of Microdestruction: Retelling the Story of a Parasite and Pacific Salmon in Four Movements
Collaborators: Dana Reason and Andrew Myers
This story is about a parasite, Ceratonova shasta, that infects one of our most iconic Northwest species - Pacific salmon. The parasite life cycle in the salmon begins when the spore fires its nematocysts into the gills of the fish. However, what we truly understand about parasite development in the fish is pieced together from snapshots taken through a microscope.
This video explores the flow of parasite development through a different lens. In it, composer Dana Reasons provides a soundtrack for the parasite story, expressing the musical drama of the host and parasite. The live drawing by visual artist Andrew Myers imagines the parasite life cycle in the salmon, as it transitions from one spore stage to the next.
Covid: A Viral Counterpoint
While the other work in this show was drawn from my own research, I was moved to connect with MIT Professor Markus Buehler, who published a manuscript on the amino acid sequence of the 2019-nCoV coronovirus spike protein - and its sonification in the form of a symphony.
In these pieces, I have taken his original manuscript and abstracted it as paper and glass collages. The images in the glass block "Covid Sonnet” are from the manuscript and Buehler's musical score. His symphony, inspired a number of collaborations with musicians and performance artists, as well as myself, and was covered in an article in MIT News.
Screen-printed and fused glass (left) and paper collage (right), 2022
Cast screen-printed glass, 2022