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Art and science flirt at the Tang

Interface, a one-night show at the Tang Museum in May, featured an Antarctica-inspired installation and talk by New Zealand artist Claire Beynon and Albany-based polar biologist Samuel Bowser, along with artworks created by students of Skidmore bio professor David Domozych.

The students were inspired by microorganisms they scanned in the college’s microscopy center. Megan Garfinkel ’08 showed handsome black-and-white photos of a freshwater alga, while Charles Nicholson ’10—with “an eye better suited for microscope than paintbrush”—made a video, complete with swelling orchestral music, of morphogenesis in a green alga called Micrasterias.

The slide lecture started with biologist Bowser’s study of one-celled creatures called Foraminifera (forams, for short), which he collects annually in Antarctica. In his Albany lab, Bowser transplanted his samples onto substrates that scientists have designed to mimic the forams’ natural environment better than a glass slide; however, this time the substrates were mini-replicas of artist Beynon’s brooding, monumental polar-landscape drawings.

How did the critters take to their artistic new digs? Judging from scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and time-lapse photography, “forams adopt interesting behaviors in response to these art-inspired topologies,” Beynon reported.

To complete the circle, the artist and the scientist then reinterpreted the microscopy images to create the new 127-piece Interface installation at the Tang. Incorporating lab beakers, drawings, and SEM images, Interface embodied what Beynon called the desire “to communicate something factual, but also beautiful.” —BAM