A tree with 40 fruits? A car devoured by pollutant-hungry microbes? Artists test limits of nature through UB Coalesce program

Man with helmet riding bicycle surrounded by crowd.

A 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

Release Date: October 10, 2018

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Seven artists from around the world will explore questions surrounding the intersection of nature and the unnatural as the newest biological art residents in the University at Buffalo Coalesce: Center for Biological Arts.

The artists are the third cohort to complete residences through Coalesce, which helps artists, scientists, architects and designers learn and examine the 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.

“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.”

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.

“Once again, 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.

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