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UB Artists-In-Residence Experiment with Genomic and Microbiomic Concepts

It’s always fascinating to learn what artists-in-residence at University at Buffalo are up to. After all, these artists hail from all over the country, and all over the world for that matter. Some of the artists even hail from Buffalo NY.

What all of these artists have in common is that they have been selected to work on their art projects at UB, most of which are considered scientific in nature. After all, in this instance, we’re talking about artists who are working on some heralded projects that could one day benefit all of humankind. The seven scholars are biological art residents in the University at Buffalo Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts. What is so significant here, is that these artists, working on genomic and microbiomic concepts, are provided the ways and means to do so by a university that excels in these academic realms. That means that they are not only able to tap into the brains of UB professors, they are also granted access to university labs, in order to complete their complex-in-nature artistic experiments. 

“Each year, we see interesting common themes emerge from the resident project proposals,” says Paul Vanouse, professor in the Department of Art, College of Arts and Sciences, and director of the Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts. “This year we see a fascination with microbes from across the biosphere — from extremophiles that degrade environmental toxins to mycelial networks that span forests to our own microbial skins, which host hundreds of bacterial species.”

“Once again, UB’s Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM) is proud to sponsor Coalesce’s artists-in-residency program. These collaborations between UB’s scientists and the global art community continue to produce unique community workshops, important new dialogues, and the continued explorations of microbial communities and their impact on the world around us,” says Jennifer Surtees, PhD, GEM co-director and associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

Exhibitions will be displayed during Coalesce open houses on Nov. 2 and Dec. 7, from 1-3 p.m. in the Coalesce BioArt Lab, 308 Hochstetter Hall on the UB North Campus. The events will feature previews and experiments of ongoing projects by residents and associated researchers.

The fall 2018 class of artists-in-residence includes:

Sam Van Aken, “Tree of 40 Fruit”

Sponsored by the UB Creative Arts Initiative and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the “Tree of 40 Fruit” is a series of hybridized trees that bear more than 40 different kinds of stone fruit including peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds.

Described by Van Aken as “part Dr. Seuss, part Frankenstein,” the trees are formed by grafting buds of various fruit trees onto the branches of a single base tree. Composed of primarily native and rare fruit varieties — some on the verge of extinction — the project is a form of conservation, preserving stone fruits that are not commercially produced or available.

Van Aken’s work will be displayed during the Coalesce open house on Nov. 2. He will also work with James Berry, PhD, professor in the UB Department of Biological Sciences, to further develop his research in cross-species grafting at the UB Dorsheimer Greenhouse.

He is an award-winning contemporary artist and associate professor of sculpture at Syracuse University.

Andrea Reynosa, “Fox Fire: Overlay 2.0”

The latest installation in the ongoing series Living Earthwork, “Fox Fire: Overlay 2.0” hopes to harness the biological illuminative properties of fungi to explore soil decomposition.

Overlay, a regenerative permaculture installation at the Unison Arts Center in New Paltz, is composed of a two-foot sheet of hay designed to mulch the weeds that envelope the area into a nutrient dense layer of soil. Underneath the layer of hay, microbial interactions take shape between beneficial organisms. Luminescent fungal colonies – also called foxfire – will be added to the soil to increase the aesthetic, creating Overlay 2.0.

Reynosa is an artist, agriculturalist and activist. She will complete the project in collaboration with Alessandra Vertrees, a student at Hunter College.

The spring 2019 class of artists-in-residence includes:

Chris Copeland and John Archer, “Metabolic Raceway”

The effects of car culture on the environment last much longer than the life of any automobile. “Metabolic Raceway,” will transform an automobile into a bioreactor for bioremediation — the process by which microorganisms break down environmental pollutants. The active sculpture will use bacteria to explore how quickly the materials within car power sources can be decomposed.

Copeland is an artist who, through the use of technology and organic material, interprets ways that humans and objects interact. Archer is an aspiring artist, sculptor, remediator and reverse alchemist.

Andrea Mancuso and Peter D’Auria, “Virocode: Renatured”

“Virocode: Renatured” will examine the extent to which the biological is being transformed by the inanimate. The project will visualize the radical changes that occur in our bodies due to the increased consumption of plastics and other non-organic material.

“Virocode,” an ongoing series of projects that utilizes photography, video, installation and digital arts, has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe.

Andrea Mancuso, PhD, teaches photography and video at the Nichols School in Buffalo and is the president of the board of directors of Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Art Center. Peter D’Auria is a Buffalo-area clinician and an adjunct instructor of physician assistant studies at Daemen College.

Iman Person, “Second Skin”

To what extent are plant behaviors autonomous? “Second Skin” seeks to explore this question through interactive sculptures that have the capacity to physically respond to plant consciousness.

Person will develop bio-skin made from plant-based bioplastics to house electrical components, blending the natural world with manmade technologies.

Person is a multidisciplinary artist and curator from Atlanta.

For more information about the artists and the Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts, visit buffalo.edu/gem/coalesce.

Coalesce is a collaboration between UB’s Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM) Community of Excellence and the Department of Art. An initiative of GEM, the program aims to expand public understanding of and participation in the life sciences.

Lead image: Performance of “Remediation Station,” a recent work by artists Chris Copeland and Josh Archer, two new UB Coalesce residents, that explores bioremediation. Photo: Josh Archer and Chris Copland | Hat tip to UB’s News Content Manager Marcene Robinson for supplemental content

Written by Buffalo Rising

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