Representing Biology as Process

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology

Abstract

The question - whether we should think of the world as consisting of entities statically defined by essential properties (i.e. in philosophical jargon, "substances"), or as processes, that undergo and persist precisely because of change - is a fundamental metaphysical dichotomy, debated since the pre-Socratics. Since the rise of atomism in the seventeenth century the substance view has dominated scientifically grounded philosophy. John Dupré's ERC-funded project, A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology, develops the thesis that for biology, at least, this has been a profound mistake (Dupré 2012: Nicholson and Dupré, in press). Dupré argues that living systems are always dynamic at multiple spatial and temporal scales and their persistence, far from being merely the continued possession of essential properties, is the result of the finely articulated interplay of multiple processes.

Visual representation is essential both to the practice and the communication of science. However, whereas drawing in the past played a central role in fields such as morphology and embryology, the rise of photographic and digital technologies and the growing emphasis on molecules as opposed to whole organisms have increasingly marginalized drawing practices. A serious problem faced in the development of a fully processual biology is that most visual representation strongly suggests a realm of static things. For example, the presentation of an organism will be of a particular developmental 'stage', typically the mature adult, which confounds the fact that this is a momentary temporal stage of the developmental process. Even where representation of something as plainly dynamic as metabolism, for example, will include arrows representing time, the natural reading will be of transitions between a fixed array of things (instances of chemical kinds). Moreover, while visual images or 'visual explanations' (Tufte 1997) in science depend on a variety of graphic devices ranging from the uf video, and photography to the use of computational graphic software, simulation and hand-drawing, these means of making images largely depend on mechanistic models (for, or of, their objects) which are already intertwined with their methods of production.

The decline of drawing in scientific practice is epitomised by Wakefield's research field, cell division and mitosis. Whereas 20 years ago, as a PhD student, his learning was centred around direct participation, through microscope-based observation and drawing of cells, his own PhD students are now further removed, watching 2D representations of cells on computer screens and printing out screen-shots. For the last 5 years, his interest in this distinction has grown, leading to an exploratory collaboration with the PI and, through this application, the Co-I. Anderson's work over a number of years has highlighted the epistemic costs of the decline of graphic skills in the Life Sciences. She has researched the ways in which scientists have used drawing as a way of developing deep insights into their subject matters, and in her own practice, under the rubric of 'Isomorphology', she has developed classificatory methods that highlight formal parallels cutting across the traditional boundaries of animal, mineral and vegetable. This work has been carried out in collaboration with a variety of scientists and museum curators and has resulted in residencies, exhibitions, talks and workshops.Building on the Isomorphology project, her more recent work, guided in part by extensive discussions with Dupré, has begun to explore ways of representing biological process, under the new rubric of Isomorphogenesis.

In line with the growing interest in process-centred understandings of biology, the present project will address the need for novel image-making practices to provide more intuitively dynamic representations of living systems through an innovative collaboration between art, biology and philosophy.

Planned Impact

This project will generate impact under the following 4 strands:
(i) to increase the appreciation of the value of drawing - as a way of knowing (rather than illustrating) - for a diverse range of people beyond the scientific community
(ii) to raise awareness about the shift from an object/static view of biology to a processual view of biology through an arts-based approach
(iii) to break down barriers between scientific and artistic communities
(iv) to offer both practitioners and institutions a new model of practice for interdisciplinary collaboration and engagement.
Through a collaborative approach and interactive impact activities, the project will instigate a multi-directional engagement between biology, philosophy and art, whilst promoting a wider understanding of the role of drawing in science within 'mainstream' society. To this end we will engage individuals from diverse backgrounds and institutions through organising interactive workshops, exhibitions, website forums and blog posts.

Target audiences:
1.BA and MA level Art students at Falmouth University, the Royal College of Art and University College London:
As current Art Education does not integrate scientific language or practice into BA and MA courses, Art students do not have the opportunity to engage with contemporary science or the confidence to explore potential art/science collaborations. By running drawing workshops in arts colleges with collaborating biologists Wakefield (Exeter) and Olson (NHM), we will encourage artists to explore new possibilities for engaging with science. The workshops will introduce artists to scientific knowledge and methods that can be developed further in individual artistic work, in an interdisciplinary approach. By bringing philosophy of science and life sciences to the attention of artists we aim to foster an appreciation of science as a source for artistic inspiration. Finally, this interaction with scientists will stimulate new art/science dialogues, and suggest ways in which artists can reach out to scientists (and vice-versa), and therefore potentially broaden their career paths.
2. Institutions:
Both cultural and scientific research institutions - including museums - pursue a public engagement agenda, which capitalizes on the innovative nature of art/science collaborations and their potential to convey both scientific and artistic ideas to a wider audience. With interdisciplinary collaboration at its core, and supported by original artwork co-created with scientists, this project will pave the way for, and promote, new forms of engagement and opportunities for inter-institutional encounters. An important aim is to foster new interdisciplinary links between visual arts, philosophy, and biology. By breaking down barriers between scientific and artistic communities the project will contribute to the 'science in culture' AHRC theme.
3. General Public:
Our impact activities aim to attract the general public to the sciences through the visual arts. In particular the art work generated aims to draw attention to an understanding of 'process biology'. Deeper reflection on the dynamic nature of life should provide better understandings of such crucial human experiences as ageing or cancer and also provide richer experiences of nature, seen as a temporary and evolving whole.
All exhibitions will be open to the public, and cultivate an appreciation of the value of drawing for conveying insights and understanding in both scientific and artistic research. Collaborating scientists will contribute captions (in accessible language) about exhibited images. Four drawing workshops open to the public at the Natural History Museum (in partnership with 'The Big Draw' festival), The Eden Project, University College London and Falmouth University will ensure this project reaches a wide and diverse public audience. Ultimately we aim to challenge prevalent preconceptions about the division between art and science.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title 'Making Life Visible', Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell, Iowa 
Description Making Life Visible, an exhibition of work by 16 contemporary artists and scientists, with additional historical material from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, explores the processes of visualization and description in art and biology. Historically, biologists and artists had similar training in observation and drawing. Though the fields have diverged, individual practitioners on both sides continue to draw inspiration from one another, finding new ideas in the process of creating images. The exhibition asks: what do artists and biologists see, and how do their ways of seeing challenge and stimulate one another? Subjects addressed in the exhibition range from molecules and cells, to organisms and ecosystems, and the artists/scientists included work in labs, studios, museums, and academic institutions. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Gallery Talk: Gemma Anderson, Representing Biology as Process April 12, 4 p.m. Artist in residence Gemma Anderson will introduce her work at Grinnell in the context of the current collaboration with biologist James Wakefield and philosopher of biology John Dupré on the Arts and Humanities Research Council project Representing Biology as Process (2017-2020). Dr. Anderson has collaborated on a number of innovative art/science projects including Hidden Geometries with the Mathematics Department at Imperial College London; Isomorphology with the Natural History Museum, London; and Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists (Wellcome Trust Arts Award 2009) in collaboration with psychiatrists and patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital. Co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Engagement and the Biology Department. Artist in Residence: Gemma Anderson April 1- 21 Artist and researcher Gemma Anderson, visiting international fellow, will be on campus to teach a short course, "Art/Bio Investigations through Drawing." Dr. Anderson's work considers ways in which drawing as a research practice can enhance morphological insight, specifically within the natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy and art. Her book, Drawing as a Way of Knowing in Art and Science was published in 2017. Co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Engagement and the Biology Department. 
URL https://www.grinnell.edu/about/offices-services/faulconer-gallery/events
 
Title 'On Growth and Form', Special Collections Institute, University of Amsterdam 
Description Solo exhibition of Gemma Andersons' drawings and etchings inspired by D'Arcy Thompson's 'On Growth and Form', Special Collections Institute, University of Amsterdam. This exhibition was part of the Lorentz Centre workshop 'On Growth and Form 2017' at Leiden University. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The exhibition was open to the public from October 23rd 2017 to January 9th 2018 and had over 3000 visitors. All participants of the Lorentz Centre workshop 'On Growth and Form 2017' attended an exhibition talk by Gemma Anderson on the 25th October. 
URL https://www.lorentzcenter.nl/lc/web/2017/930/info.php3?wsid=930
 
Title GÄA: Holistic Science and Wisdom Tradition, Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange, Cornwall 
Description A group exhibition curated by Gina Buenfeld, featuring work by Gemma Anderson, Serena Korda, Delfina Muñoz de Toro and Abel Rodriguez. The work by Anderson was produced as part of the AHRC project. Anderson gave a talk, which is available at the URL address below. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact None as yet identifiable. 
URL https://newlynartgallery.co.uk/activities/gaa/
 
Title Representing Biology as Process, 
Description This was an exhibition of Anderson's work on the project, presented at the Royal Institution, London, in connection with the final conference of Dupre's ERC Advanced Investigator project, A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact No identifiable impacts as yet, but the conference was attended by about 200 people including prominent scientists and philosophers as well as people from a wide variety of other relevant backgrounds, and the exhibit attracted a great deal of interest. 
 
Description Art Science Interest Group meeting at the Natural History Museum London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 32 people attended this Art and Science Interest Group (ASIG) at the Natural History Museum is organised by Artist Gemma Anderson and NHM Scientist Gavin Broad, it is a bi-monthly forum that fosters a community of Scientists and Artists who are interested in the field of 'Art/Science'. ASIG provides a programme of Invited speakers at each meeting, who share practice and ideas and excite new conversations in the group. At each meeting Gemma Anderson updates the group about the progress and activities of the AHRC 'Representing Biology as Process' project. In January 2019 historian of Science Janina Wellmann and Bio-Artist Anna Dumitriu as guest speakers for the first Art Science Interest Group meeting of 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Art/Science Interest Group (ASIG), Natural History Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 35 people attended this Art and Science Interest Group (ASIG) at the Natural History Museum is organised by Artist Gemma Anderson and NHM Scientist Gavin Broad, it is a bi-monthly forum that fosters a community of Scientists and Artists who are interested in the field of 'Art/Science'. ASIG provides a programme of Invited speakers at each meeting, who share practice and ideas and excite new conversations in the group. At each meeting Gemma Anderson updates the group about the progress and activities of the AHRC 'Representing Biology as Process' project. In November 2018 Dr Chiara Ambrosio (UCL) and artist's Caroline Ward and Michiko Nitta presented their work followed by group discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Drawing Lab 1-5 (Five sessions of 90 minutes) designed and led by Dr Gemma Anderson, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Eight members of the Wakefield Lab (the entire Lab team) who research the biological process of mitosis attended this Drawing Lab. They made a series of drawings of mitosis guided by Dr Gemma Anderson. Drawing Labs aim to use drawing to develop understanding of biological process and to share this understanding. They are held regularly with collaborating scientific laboratories and extended to share this scientific understanding with non-scientific participants in a variety of art and science venues.

Building on Anderson's established workshop methodology (best seen in her Cornwall Morphology and Drawing Centre project, Anderson 2015), a series of drawing labs are designed to provide reflective learning for participants. Drawing labs are be both question- and process-led, allowing artistic and scientific approaches to converge and then again to diverge, thereby transcending the boundaries often associated with the two cultures (Snow 2012). Participants are guided through drawing methods specifically developed by Anderson to support direct experiential learning. Where possible, non-scientific participants have the opportunity to observe aspects of the biological through laboratory microscope facilities. Following the suggestion to provide a physical arena for the negotiation of corporeal experiences in relation to scientific concepts (Hay et al, 2013), short, guided observations on physical movement will be integrated into the workshops. At each Drawing Lab, Anderson curates a set of context specific scientific and artistic images and texts to support learning.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.probioart.uk/drawing-labs/
 
Description Drawing Lab 6-10 (Five sessions of 90 minutes) designed and led by Dr Gemma Anderson, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Ten members of the Vollmer Lab (The entire Lab) who research single molecule protein dynamics attended these 90 minute drawing sessions. Guided by Dr Gemma Anderson, each participant made drawings about single molecule protein dynamics and the transformation of light. Drawing Labs aim to use drawing to develop understanding of biological process and to share this understanding. They are held regularly with collaborating scientific laboratories and extended to share this scientific understanding with non-scientific participants in a variety of art and science venues.

Building on Anderson's established workshop methodology (best seen in her Cornwall Morphology and Drawing Centre project, Anderson 2015), a series of drawing labs are designed to provide reflective learning for participants. Drawing labs are be both question- and process-led, allowing artistic and scientific approaches to converge and then again to diverge, thereby transcending the boundaries often associated with the two cultures (Snow 2012). Participants are guided through drawing methods specifically developed by Anderson to support direct experiential learning. Where possible, non-scientific participants have the opportunity to observe aspects of the biological through laboratory microscope facilities. Following the suggestion to provide a physical arena for the negotiation of corporeal experiences in relation to scientific concepts (Hay et al, 2013), short, guided observations on physical movement will be integrated into the workshops. At each Drawing Lab, Anderson curates a set of context specific scientific and artistic images and texts to support learning.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.probioart.uk/drawing-labs/
 
Description Exhibition Talk at the Exchange Gallery 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Curator Gina Buenfeld in conversation with artists Gemma Anderson, scientist James Wakefield and Serena Korda the discussion sparked lively debate about art/science and many audience questions and discussions afterwards, and the gallery reported increased interest in related subject areas.
Free with admission, no need to book.
56 audience members were counted by the gallery.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://newlynartgallery.co.uk/activities/gaa/
 
Description Invited Speaker, London LASER, Central St Martins School of Art and Design, London, October 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Gemma Anderson introduces her work in the context of the current AHRC project 'Representing Biology as Process' she is working on with Biologist James Wakefield and Philosopher John Dupré at the University of Exeter. The audience consisted of over 60 people including UAL MA Art and Science students and staff, artists, scientists and members of the public. The talk generated questions and discussions afterwards. Following the talk, UAL MA Art and Science course leader nominated Anderson for the British Science Association Award Lecture Series 2018 (Jacob Bronowski - science and the arts) and invited her to give a drawing workshop at the British Science Association Festival in Hull in 2018. London LASER is a program of evening gatherings, which bring together eclectic guest speakers working at the intersections of art, science and technology. Free of charge and open to the public, the events encourage lively discussion in an informal academic setting. London LASER is hosted by University of the Arts London (Central Saint Martins MA Art and Science) and University of Westminster (CREAM), and organised by Heather Barnett and co-chaired with John R A Smith. LASER is a project of Leonardo® /ISAST (the International Society for Art, Science and Technology).
http://londonlaser.net/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ_FtPz84kw
 
Description Public talk and drawing workshop, 'Molecules of life: Exploring Proteins through drawing, movement and origami' - at the Eden Project, Cornwall 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 29 members of the public, mainly families with children attended this experimental and multi-modal art/science/philosophy workshop titled 'Molecules of Life: Exploring Proteins through drawing, movement and origami' as part of the Eden Project's Invisible Worlds Launch Week. Led by Artist Gemma Anderson, Philosopher John Dupré and Scientist Johnathan Phillips from the University of Exeter, this workshop was part of a packed timetable of science-themed talks and workshop in the Eden Projects brand-new 'Lab'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.edenproject.com/visit/whats-on/invisible-worlds-launch-week