Stay connected. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

A Playground for Scientists and Artists

In April, the Science Center was awarded a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to establish a BioArt Residency program. The goal? To stimulate scientific discovery and creativity between artists and scientists by placing artists inside the lab of Integral Molecular, a biotech company located at uCity Square.

Two artists have successfully completed their three-month residencies, while a third artist, Deirdre Murphy (whose work is pictured above), is in the midst of her residency. Behind the scenes Residency Coordinator Mina Zarfsaz, and CEO of Integral Molecular Ben Doranz, have both been witness to the discoveries and creative research projects coming to light thanks to this program.

We asked Mina and Ben a few questions about their experiences thus far. Check out their responses below.

Flying Slippers: Why would a biotech company like Integral Molecular want to host an artist?

Ben Doranz: Our artist-in-residence program has three goals: to educate the community about science, to create a mutually beneficial dialog between artists and scientists, and to have a direct positive impact on human health. So far, we’re lucky enough to be seeing all three of those goals being achieved.

Flying Slippers: What has your experience been like watching artists and scientists at Integral Molecular collaborate?

Mina Zarfsaz: The dynamics between artists and scientists have been incredible. It is amazing to see how naturally conversations form and evolve into collaborations. It has also been interesting to witness how both parties see different potentials in things. What seems to be important in terms of quantity (e.g. number of growth in bacteria,) translates more qualitatively for the other (e.g. patterns and constellations in the shapes of growth.) Or, color seems to go back and forth between a practical indication to a purely aesthetic form.

Being an artist myself, I easily get intrigued by these possibilities; the atmosphere of the lab encourages curiosity and acts like a huge playground with a lot of friendly people; the ideas come to you in the speed of light and it is easy to get excited about anything and everything.

FS: What have you discovered about the intersection of art and science during this residency?

BD: There's a lot of overlap between scientists and artists - both are driven by innate curiosity and both have to find creative solutions to ask and answer those questions. I’ve always felt this intrinsically, but seeing the overlap in action has been very exciting.

FS: How do the scientists at Integral Molecular interact with and contribute to the work of the bio artists?

MZ: I have witnessed a huge amount of generosity coming from the scientists in the lab. They seem to be very patient with explaining simple and complex processes that they work with. Most of the scientists that our artists have been working closely with have an artistic practice of their own or appreciate artistic explorations in some capacity. It is a matter of time in seeing how both parties' interests come together in conversation or in the form of curiosity or wonder and inspire one another’s experiments in the lab, at home or at their studios.

FS: What value is there in such a partnership for a biotech company?
BD: I know that many of our scientists are seeing their research, results, and scientific tools from a new perspective. Our scientists and have ongoing conversations with the artists about their research and how to use or see their research results differently. The projects so far are also helping translate what we’re doing in the lab into a common language that everyone can understand. Ultimately, that language and that understanding impacts the decisions and choices we make in our life – including health and medical decisions – probably better than a graph or statistic that we generate in the lab.

FS:You create art yourself, did that play a role in your decision to participate in this residency? How does it impact your approach to innovation?

BD: Creating art has been an intrinsic part of my life for the past 30 years. For me, it’s a necessity. The creative process is also fundamental to the way I think – everything at Integral Molecular is about creating and innovating. However, art has mostly been confined to my non-work life, so it's gratifying to now see them combined.

FS: Why do you think a residency like this is important to the scientific and artist process?

MZ: Both scientists and artists get involved in procedural work in their thinking and making. And, today having an interdisciplinary approach in one’s work is nothing strange; ultimately, we all act as pluralistic individuals. We have learned to empathize or understand that empathy has a huge part in our learning and collaborations are a form of empathy. However, having a platform that reinforces and values interdisciplinary work is crucial. I think this residency is an exemplar of such platforms and it also creates a public discourse for sharing knowledge in one form or another. Both Angela McQuillan of the Esther Klein Gallery and Ben Doranz of Integral Molecular contribute a huge amount of excitement and energy to this program and with their efforts along with the conclusive work that residents put together with the help of scientists in the lab, we can advocate that the process is productive and worthwhile and hope for similar platforms to be formed.