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International artists merge science and art to answer life questions

Through the University at Buffalo Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts, artists form mentorships with UB faculty in the life sciences to broaden the cultural meanings of their work beyond the constraints of most disciplines. Photo: Mick Lorusso and Joel Ong

Release Date: October 5, 2017

“As a society, we are facing important challenges with respect to the use of our genetic, genomic and microbiome information for health care, lifestyle choices and commercial purposes.”
Jennifer Surtees, PhD, GEM co-director and associate professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts will welcome seven artists from around the world to explore life’s greatest questions through biological art residencies.

The artists are the second cohort to carry out residences through Coalesce, which helps scientists, artists, designers and architects actively learn and examine the broader cultural meanings of their work.

Residents will have the opportunity to form mentorships with UB faculty in the life sciences and gain access to laboratory equipment, and are provided the creative space and technical support to study genomic and microbiomic concepts.

“Bioartists use the constitutive elements of biological life, such as DNA, proteins and cells to create artworks that explore life from interdisciplinary perspectives, in ways that are beyond the constraints of most disciplines,” says Paul Vanouse, professor in the UB Department of Art in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts.

“It’s our mission to facilitate artists in engaging the public in a deep exploration of some of the most complex social and ethical questions facing society today.”

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

“As a society, we are facing important challenges with respect to the use of our genetic, genomic and microbiome information for health care, lifestyle choices and commercial purposes. We all deserve a say and the Coalesce artists help to engage our communities in these vital discussions,” says Jennifer Surtees, PhD, GEM co-director and associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The Fall 2017 class of artists-in-residence include:

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, “T3511”

Dewey-Hagborg, PhD, returns to Coalesce for a second residency with her new project, T3511, an experimental documentary about the story of a biohacker who becomes obsessed with an anonymous donor whose saliva she purchases online.

The interactive film explores the emerging world of genomic testing, the commodification of human cells and DNA, and how relationships and privacy may change in the post-genetic future.

She will work with Heather Ochs-Balcom, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health in the School of Public Health and Health Professions; and Tao Liu, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry.

Dewey-Hagborg is a transdisciplinary artist and assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. To learn more about her work, visit www.deweyhagborg.com.

Mick Lorusso and Joel Ong, “Umwelt Microbiana”

Umwelt Microbiana is an interactive installation that seeks to understand the complex and fragile networks, communication and gene transfer between microbes in the air, water, earth and skin using samples collected locally.

They will work with Lauren Sassoubre, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Lorusso is a cross-disciplinary artist, a research fellow at the UCLA Art|Sci Center and instructor at the Sci|Art NanoLab Summer Institute. To learn more about his work, visit www.micklorusso.net.

Ong is an assistant professor in the Department of Computational Arts at York University and a doctoral candidate at University of Washington Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media. To learn more about his work, visit www.arkfrequencies.com.

In “DNA of Humans, DNA of Trees,” artist Sabrina Merayo Nuñez sequences DNA samples from various trees and humans to find comparisons that exemplify how the two depend on one another for survival. Photo: Sabrina Merayo Nuñez

Sabrina Merayo Nuñez, “DNA of Humans, DNA of Trees”

DNA of Humans, DNA of Trees will examine the relationship between humans and the surrounding elements that they manipulate and depend on survival. Nuñez will gather and sequence DNA samples from her hair, saliva and skin and leaves, sap and bark from local trees to map comparisons between the two.

Nuñez is a visual artist with expertise in crafting with wood. She currently works in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To learn more about her work, visit www.merayonuniez.com.

Günes-Hélène Isitan, “Spill Your Guts”

Spill Your Guts will explore the human as an entity distinct from the Homo sapiens species in light of the discovery that nearly half of the human body is made of microbial cells, mainly bacteria and fungi.

The project will compare the microbiomes of the gut to those of other parts of the body, and present the differences as songs using electrophoresis gel slabs as punch cards for a music box.

Isitan is a biological artist and graduate student studying actual arts practice at Sherbrooke University. She is represented by both the SciArt Center and Galerie uNo. To learn more about her work, visit www.gunesisitan.com.

The Spring 2018 class of artists-in-residence include:

Ryan Hammond, “Open Source Gendercodes”

Open Source Gendercodes is a project focused on developing an open source platform for the production of growth hormones. Recognizing the history of non-consensual experimentation and the harvesting of organs and bodily fluids from the underrepresented, the project seeks to conduct a gender political power grab to return bio-power to the public.

Hammond is a new media artist and lab manager at the Baltimore Underground Science Space. To learn more about their work, visit www.ryanhammond.us.

Moira Williams, “Fermented Freedom: Cultures of Preservation”

Fermented Freedom: Cultures of Preservation will collaborate will local kombucha brewers to hold fermentation workshops and create a Biofilm Hosting Program, a kombucha biofilm exchange and archive. The archive will serve as a living heritage cultural preservation that documents the shifting microbial network of the biofilm.

Williams is an artist in residency at the Santa Fe Arts Institute Emerging Artist Program. To learn more about her work, visit www.moira670.com.

For more details on the Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts and how to engage with the artists-in-residence, visit http://bit.ly/2cnzXxA or contact Vanouse at vanouse@buffalo.edu.

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