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A Conversation with BioArtist in Residence Laura Splan

Earlier this year we announced a new interdisciplinary artist residency program in conjunction with uCity Square-based biotech company, Integral Molecular. Laura Splan, the first of three artists to participate in the BioArt Residency, began her three-month stint in April. Tonight, she’ll be giving an Artist Talk at Quorum to provide further insight into some of her completed projects.

Below, Laura discusses her work, her artistic process, and goals for her residency at Integral Molecular.

When did you first become interested in art?

I was originally a Bio Sci major at UC Irvine where I was planning to be a veterinarian. I was even volunteering at a veterinary clinic where I got to do a lot of exciting things, like help test stool samples and clear the lungs and airway of fluid in c-sectioned kittens. But my elective courses in art really enamored me, and by the end of my sophomore year I had changed my major to art. There were so many inspiring artists and ideas in the department that I was being exposed to. At the time, this creative inspiration felt more urgent and alive than the content of my biology courses. In hindsight though, it’s easy to trace my interest in science in my visual artwork.

What interested you in participating in this artist residency?

I have been working with biomedical imagery, themes and materials in my work for a long time. However, this is actually my first laboratory residency. I’ve always had a DIY and self-directed approach to my projects research. So the opportunity to immerse myself in the cutting-edge research happening at Integral Molecular is a true adventure and privilege!

What do you hope to get out of your residency at Integral Molecular?

The benefits of this residency have revealed themselves to be quite multidimensional. I’m learning a lot about the lab’s antibody discovery and epitope mapping research, and the unique technologies they have developed to do it. And shadowing the scientists, discussing their research, and attending lab meetings have lent a profound depth to the experience and to my understanding of the science behind this research. My three-month residency is laying the foundation for the work I’ll be creating in the studio this summer. Those projects will incorporate tools and materials explored at Integral, including molecular visualization software and the use of an online database such as the Protein Data Bank.

What perceptions/representations have some of your previous projects been informed by?

I’m particularly interested in the material manifestations of our mutable relationship with the human body. All of my projects reconsider perceptions and representations of the corporeal with a range of techniques. My work often references innovation and invention in the history of science. And my process often involves use of the body as material, artifact and image.

In your experience, how are artists and scientists alike? How do they differ?

I think artists and scientists are both particularly preoccupied with “novel” ideas. There is shared creativity in the search for it in either discipline.

How has your Philadelphia experience been thus far?

My weekly trips to Philly have allowed me to reconnect with people and places I’m already very familiar with, like the Esther Klein Gallery and the Mütter Museum. But I’m most looking forward to some upcoming excursions at the Wagner Free Institute of Science and the Science History Institute.

Laura is an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores intersections of art, science, technology and craft. Her conceptually based projects examine the material manifestations of our relationship with the human body. She reconsiders perceptions and representations of the corporeal with a range of traditional and new media techniques. She often combines the quotidian with the institutional to interrogate culturally constructed notions of order and disorder, function and dysfunction. Much of her work is inspired by experimentation with materials and processes, which she mines for their narrative implications and untapped potentials. For her latest solo exhibition “Embodied Objects” at Occurrence (Montréal, QC), Splan used biosensors to create data-driven forms and computer-generated patterns for digitally fabricated sculptures, tapestries and works on paper.