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Biology and Art: Two Worlds or One?

Biology and Art
Reported by
Alexis Clements

Posted July 13, 2007

Presented By

Presented by The William A. Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts


On April 14, 2007, scientists, artists, and interested members of the public gathered to explore the science-art interface at a conference titled Biology and Art: Two Worlds or One? Sponsored by the Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts and the New York Academy of Sciences, the conference's primary goal was to explore the influence of the two fields on one another, and the potential effect of the interaction between biology and art on the public's awareness and understanding of contemporary science. Following a keynote address by Jens Hauser, a curator and scholar of bio-art, four sessions paired artists with scientists whose research is related to the themes explored in their work.

Web Sites

Science–Art Programs

Art Science Research Laboratory
Founded in 1998 by Rhonda Roland Shearer and Stephen Jay Gould, the ARSL is a New York-based not-for-profit organization designed to create an environment for intellectual study between art historians, scientists, artists, designers, and programmers.

Art of Science Competition
An annual contest sponsored by Princeton University, intended to celebrate the aesthetics of research and the ways in which science and engineering inform art and vise versa.

The Arts Catalyst
A UK-based organization formed to promote cooperation between the arts and sciences. They are particularly interested in biotechnology and air and space technology.

A bio-art program at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"People doing strange things with electricity."

The Institute for Figuring
Based in Los Angeles, the IFF is an organization "dedicated to the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science, mathematics, and the technical arts."

Science & the Arts – City University of New York
An outreach series organized to spotlight science-art interactions.

Science & the City
The webzine of the New York Academy of Sciences, featuring a comprehensive calendar of events in the New York City area at the intersection of the arts and science.

A research lab that fosters collaborations and explorations between scientists and artists, focused mainly on biological sciences.


Haptics Research and Media
Haptics-L is the electronic mailing list for the international haptics community. The newslog contains the latest news and views on haptics. Other programs include The International Society for Haptics (founded by Gabriel Robles-De-La-Torre), the Haptics Laboratory at McGill University, and PERCRO, a laboratory specializing in telepresence, simultaneous presence, and virtual presence, with particular emphasis on haptic interface design and applications.

History of Visualization of Biological Macromolecules
A very informative presentation by Eric Martz and Eric Francoeur.

Journal of Visualized Experiments
A scientific journal that publishes video documentation of experimental procedures.

Science, Art, and Culture Archive
A web archive of articles and special supplements focused on science in culture published in Nature magazine.

Virtual Symposium on Visual Culture and Bioscience
Held on March 5 through March 15, 2007 this Web-based symposium was moderated by Suzanne Anker and cosponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Where Science Meets Art
A series focused on science and art interactions on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Worldwide Protein Data Bank
An online clearinghouse for data on protein structure and function.

Selected Bio-Artists

Suzanne Anker

Art Oriente Objet (more here)

Brandon Ballangee

Critical Art Ensemble

Wim Delvoye

Mark Dion

Marta de Menezes

George Gessert

Michael Joaquin Grey

Mara Haseltine

Andreas Horlitz

Theo Jansen

Eduardo Kac (The Eighth Day, video here)



Julia Reodica


Jun Takita


Laura Splan

Tissue Culture and Art Project

Paul Vanouse

Andrea Zittel


Alexander RM. 2006. Principals of Animal Locomotion. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Anker S, Nelkin D. The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Genetic Age. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York.

Apel D. 1999. Weird Science: A Conflation of Art and Science. Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills.

Baigrie B. 1996. Picturing Knowledge: Historical and Philosophical Problems Concerning the Use of Art in Science. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Biewener, AA. 2003. Animal Locomotion. Oxford University Press, New York.

Ede S. 2005. Art & Science. I.B. Taurus, New York.

Ford B. 1992. Images of Science: A History of Scientific Illustration. British Library, London.

Frankel F. 2002. Envisioning Science: The Design and Craft of the Science Image. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Dondis D. 1974. A Primer for Visual Literacy. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Gould SJ. 2003. The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities. Three Rivers Press, New York.

Gumbrecht HU. 2003. Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Kemp M. 2000. Visualizations: The Nature Book of Art and Science. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kemp M, Wallace M. 2000. Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body, from Leonardo to Now. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Lewontin RC. 1993. Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA. Harper Perennial, New York.

Lynch M, Woolgar S. 1990. Representation in Scientific Practice. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Merleau-Ponty M. 1996. Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge, New York.

Morgan MS, Morrison M. 1999. Models as Mediators: Perspectives on Natural and Social Science. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Nancy J-L. 2000. L'Intrus. Galilée, Paris.

Solini P. 2003. L'art biotech. Filigranes, Paris.

Splan L. 2007. Sympathetic Coordination. Self-Published.


Debatty R. 2007. Interview with Art Orienté Objet. We Make Money Not Art. Full Text

Gould SJ, Shearer RR. 1999. Of two minds and one nature. Science 286: 1093-1094. Full Text

Hauser J. 2005. Disembodied cuisine – demystified technotopia. CIAC's Electronic Magazine 23. Full Text

Hayward V, Astley OR, Cruz-Hernandez M, et al. 2004. Haptic interfaces and devices. Sensor Review 24: 16-29. Full Text (PDF, 745 KB)

Portillo-Rodriguez O, Avizzano CA, Bergamasco M, Robles-De-La-Torre G. 2006. Haptic rendering of sharp objects using lateral forces. Proceedings, IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN06), Hatfield, UK: 431-436. Full Text (PDF, 488 KB)

Robles-De-La-Torre G. 2006. The importance of the sense of touch in virtual and real environments. IEEE Multimedia 13: 24-30. Full Text (PDF, 288 KB)

Robles-De-La-Torre G, Hayward V. 2001. Force can overcome object geometry in the perception of shape through active touch. Nature 412: 445-448. Full Text (PDF, 484 KB)

Turney J, Davies S. 2006. Science for all: is public engagement engaging the public? Conference Report, Wellcome Trust, Manchester Conference Center. Full Text (PDF, 193 KB)


Andrew A. Biewener, PhD

Harvard University
e-mail | web site | publications

Andrew Biewener is the CBiewenerharles P. Lyman Professor of Biology and a member of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology of Harvard University. He also serves as director of the Concord Field Station, located in Bedford MA, and oversees the Harvard Estabrook Woods in Concord, MA. His research is on the biomechanics and physiology of animal movement, which includes comparative studies of terrestrial locomotion and avian flight, as well as in the design and implementation of legged robots. In addition to over 80 research papers, he has published a textbook Animal Locomotion. His recent research focuses on the neuromechanics of limb and muscle function and seeks to understand how running animals achieve stability when unexpectedly perturbed.

Michael Joaquin Grey

e-mail | web site

For the past twenty years, Michael Joaquin Grey has been creating work that extends and plays with the boundaries of art, science, and media. His investigations center on the development and the origins of life, language, and form—as related to natural and complex systems. Critical moments in natural phenomenon and culture are objects in his work, as are the prepositional states of change between matter, energy, behavior, and meaning. Grey's creative dialogue engages epistemological and pedagogical creative limitations of the tools and processes we use to observe, learn, and play with our world. His work has been widely recognized in publications internationally and he has exhibited at many museums and galleries. Grey is also the inventor of ZOOB, a modeling system that emulates the building blocks of nature and complex systems. He received a BS from the University of Califonia, Berkeley in genetics and an MFA from Yale. He lives in San Francisco and New York.

Mara Haseltine

e-mail | web site

Mara Haseltine received her undergraduate degree in studio art and art history from Oberlin College, Ohio, and her master's degree from the San Francisco Art Institute with a double degree in new genres and sculpture. She has worked as a sculptor throughout the United States and worldwide. Haseltine's love of the natural sciences and form has been a constant theme throughout her work. Her work is figurative in that even her most abstract forms relate to the internal-external body as well as human psychology.

William A. Haseltine, PhD

Haseltine Foundation for Medical Science and the Arts

William A. Haseltine is a biophysicist, inventor, and entrepreneur who has been a pioneer in the use of the human genome as a tool for identifying and treating diseases. For over 25 years he was a professor at Boston's Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1992 he founded Human Genome Sciences, Inc. (HGS), based in Rockville, Maryland, which has compiled an encyclopedia of expressed human genes. He has been involved in the use of genetics as a possible way of fighting AIDS, has explored ways to extend human life expectancy, and is president of a foundation dedicated to promoting the public communication of science and its intersections with the arts.

Jens Hauser


Jens Hauser is a Paris-based art curator, writer, cultural journalist and video maker focusing on the interactions between art and technology, and on transgenre and contextual aesthetics. His papers have been published in ten languages and he has lectured extensively in many countries. As a curator, Hauser organized a large show on biotechnological art at the National Arts and Culture Centre Le Lieu Unique, Nantes, L'Art Biotech (2003) and published a book with the same title. His forthcoming exhibitions are Bio Stillness (Perth/Australia, 2007), and Sk-Interfaces (Liverpool, 2008), which deals with the paradigm of skin as a technological interface. In 2005, Hauser received the Fund for Arts Research Grant from the American Center Foundation. He has also directed creative radio pieces, sound environments, and documentary films, which have been shown in festivals and as video installations in museums. Since 1992 he has collaborated regularly with the European culture television network Arte as well as with the cultural programs of German broadcasting stations. Hauser has also been engaged in projects helping visually disabled people to access art and cinema, including audio-description of film, and has organized numerous workshops.

Wayne Hendrickson, PhD

Columbia University
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
e-mail | web site | publications

Wayne Hendrickson is University Professor at Columbia University and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He received his PhD in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University. Hendrickson's research focuses on the structure and function of proteins. He uses x-ray crystallography to study molecular properties in atomic detail. He has made very significant contributions to diffraction methods which have led to the emergence of structural biology as a major force in modern biology and molecular medicine. His colleagues use these technologies themselves in investigations of protein molecules that function at the surfaces of living cells. Hendrickson's honors include the Aminoff Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Gairdner International Award, and the Harvey Prize of the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Theo Jansen

e-mail | web site

Theo Jansen studied science at the University of Delft, the Netherlands. After spending the first seven years of his artistic career painting, he decided to strike out on a new course by making a real flying saucer. It flew over Delft in 1980 to the great consternation of the local population and police. Since then he has been trying to create a new type of nature. But he doesn't use pollen or seeds, but yellow plastic tubes. In his laboratory on a windy roadside, he has continued his work on this pioneering branch of fauna, making skeletons which are able to walk on the wind. Eventually he wants to put these animals out in herds on beaches to live their own lives. Theo Jensen has written extensively and his work has been exhibited in many places. Additionally, he has written three books about technical art and evolution and several television performances have inspired thousands of people to go to the beach to see him working there. An example of one of his creations is on view at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art as a part of a group show titled The Believers, which runs through spring 2008.

Jonathan King, PhD

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
e-mail | web site | publications

Jonathan King is professor of molecular biology in the Department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught and led a biomedical research team for over three decades. King studies the properties of proteins, and the interaction of proteins to form complex structures, including viruses which infect bacteria. He is a former president of the Biophysical Society, former Guggenheim Fellow, and recipient of the National Institutes of Health MERIT Award.

Gabriel Robles-De-La-Torre, PhD

International Society for Haptics
web site | publications

Gabriel Robles-De-La-Torre's research interests include touch perception in real and virtual environments and computational methods to create haptic virtual objects which can be touched and manipulated. He is the founder of the International Society for Haptics and advises organizations such as the European Commission. Robles-De-La-Torre received a computer engineering degree from the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM), and his MS and PhD degrees in neuroscience from Brandeis University. He is a former Fulbright scholar. Robles-De-La-Torre's research has been featured in Nature, The Washington Post, Scientific American France (Pour la Science), MIT's Technology Review Online, and The Economist.

Laura Splan

e-mail | web site

Laura Splan is a New York City based artist. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of California, Irvine, where she originally studied biological sciences. She received her Master of Fine Art from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Her work was recently featured in Discover magazine and in a solo show at the New York Hall of Science. An exhibition of her work is on view at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago through July 20, 2007.

Alexis Clements

web site

Alexis Clements is a New York City-based writer and Web designer. She is also one of the 2006/2007 fellows of the Dramatists Guild of America and recently completed her Master's degree in philosophy of science at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Presented by The William A. Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts