Art4Science – Biology as an artist

Rational and systematic on the one hand – emotional and aesthetic on the other. On closer inspection, the apparent opposites of art and science result in a common picture that can be seen as a whole not only in the willingness to experiment and inspiration. The project makes this possible “art4science” of St. Anna Children’s Cancer Research. It merges the poles of art and science and thus makes an important contribution to a new area of ​​creative science communication. The connecting elements were shown on Thursday evening as part of a panel discussion on the subject of “research and sensuality” in cooperation with the “Wiener Zeitung”.

“Science and art can definitely influence and stimulate each other,” emphasized Thomas Lion, Medical Director of Labdia Laboratory Diagnostics and molecular geneticist at St. Anna Children’s Cancer Research, in his opening statement. Think, for example, of the Atomium in Brussels or the famous sculpture by Henry Moore in Chicago, which artistically depicts the first controlled nuclear test. The concept of fractal geometry developed by Polish mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot also falls into this category for Lion. It can also be used to mathematically record very irregularly defined shapes in nature. “If you think about the shape of a cloud or the shape of an irregularly growing tumor,” Lion outlined.

Cells that give rise to a tumor or indicate its path to healing are the focus of a joint project by molecular biologist Sabine Taschner-Mandl and fashion designer Romana Zöchling. The wide range of aesthetics of these cells under the microscope prompted the two to create art. Although the aesthetics of the picture is merely a by-product of their work, Taschner-Mandl emphasized that research results can also be presented with it. As a result, biology becomes an artist.

The research work of the molecular biologist is about visualizing the properties of cells using imaging microscopic methods. Zöchling brought these visualizations to fabrics and designed clothes from them. “The images show very nicely how individual structures in cells spread and actually physically touch and communicate and interact with them,” says the scientist. Research is often perceived as abstract. In art, it becomes tangible and vivid for them.

“Inspiration always comes when people look beyond their own nose and have the courage to broaden their view and make it bigger,” said the presenter and deputy editor-in-chief of the “Wiener Zeitung”, Judith Belfkih. Not only Taschner-Mandl and Zöchling have implemented this, but also the photo artist Bela Borsodi in a project of his own that is still in progress. In it he documents the birth of a tumor that first appears in a femur. But it is also about the strength of the immune system, healing and the working methods of the scientists.

During the discussion, he outlined the mutual inspiration that emerged in the course of the project work. “I didn’t have nice colors and pictures, I had to imagine complicated things and tried to put the scientists’ approach in a world that is completely abstract in contrast to our world,” Borsodi pointed out. The work resulted in sculptures that will be photographed later. “I have translated into a science fiction world, the discovery or birth of a cancer and also how the cancer cells move,” explained the photo artist.

The unimaginable imaginable

Because art can make the unimaginable imaginable and makes it possible to communicate things that the scientist probably does not see as a possibility of being able to communicate at all. Borsodi sees an inspired spirit as the connecting element of all disciplines. “Whether it’s science, music, art or even football, the spirit behind it, which drives people to explore something because they’re curious, is very similar everywhere.” However, the strategies are very different.

Zöchling emphasized that fashion in particular is a superficial, aesthetic moment. Therefore, the question arose whether the connection to a deadly disease should be made at all. “We never show aggressive tumor cells on the fabrics and clothing, but what happens when we fight the tumor. We are researching how it can heal,” stressed Taschner-Mandl. The concern was that the subject be treated with respect. Ultimately, this resulted in six different looks made up of individual pieces and strictly limited pieces of clothing, which the fashion designer has brought to blossom in her Ferrari Zöchling label.

In this form, research can open up. And it should also be discussed publicly in order to enable discussion of science and scientific topics. Clothes promote communication, sculptures promote communication, pictures promote communication. But not everything should be made explainable, “because some things can definitely be left in the fog of uncertainty,” concluded Borsodi.

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