EN : 2018. Cyanotypes, solarfast & screen prints of bacteria paintings made by the artist from drawings made with bioluminescent bacteria (kanamycin) (with the assistance of Patrick Torbey, PhD), and microscopic brain imagery (rat hippocampal neurons, courtesy of Maria Joana Pinto, PhD), superposed with aerial images of American landscapes destroyed by aluminum waste and the Rio Tinto mine in Spain (images courtesy of J Henry Fair), handmade recycled paper, natural French and Italian pigments, linseed oil and Sennelier #greenforoil painting medium on canvas. 6.5’ x 4.5’ (195cm x 130cm).
FR : 2018. Cyanotypes, tirages solarfast et sérigraphies (à motif des dessins aux bactéries kanamycin de l’artiste, photographies microscopiques du cerveau d’un rat (neurones hippocampiques) et photographie aérienne de la terre américaine polluée par des phosphates et de la mine de Rio Tinto en Espagne), papier recyclé fabriqué à la main, pigments naturels provenant de la terre française et italienne, huile de lin et Sennelier « green for oil » médium à peindre écologique sur toile. 195cm x 130cm.
about the work
Ondes was born when four very different people, representing six nationalities and four different and areas of study, met in Paris. Taylor Smith, an American artist-in-residence in Paris, was introduced to Nora Assendorp (Germany/Netherlands) and Maria Joana Pinto (Portugal), two molecular neuroscientists (PhD candidate and Post-doc respectively), as well as Patrick Torbey (France/Lebanon), a molecular biologist finishing his PhD. Quite naturally, we all started talking about organic forms. This large-scale, mixed-media painting was the centerpiece of two of Taylor’s recent solo exhibitions: Symbiosis (2018) and How to Capture Flow (2019). Within the two-dimensional space of the canvas, microscopic images recorded by Maria are fused with aerial images of destroyed landscapes taken by photographer and environmental activist J Henry Fair, in addition to Taylor’s own personal images of natural patterns (the veins of tropical leaves, bark patterns…). The aesthetic parallels between these microscopic, macroscopic and aerial images of our planet’s landscapes and life forms, taken by five different people, are uncanny and merit both scientific and artistic explanations. Our personal associations to these forms and patterns are subjective and, throughout the exhibition, spurred a variety of interpretations amongst visitors. However, everyone recognized that the dominant subject of this painting is the brain.
The idea for the final composition begin with an image from Maria of a primary culture of rat hippocampal neurons taken with a confocal microscope. Maria’s image was taken for a project that aimed to explore the mechanisms leading to the formation of new synapses, in particular the presynaptic side of synaptic contacts. These presynaptic bouttons are assembled during development along neuronal ramifications (in the original image as long threads in gray, stained for tubulin). This image was then mixed with photographs from bioluminescent bacterial cultures created with Patrick. Taylor used different concentrations of bacteria to paint directly onto an agar gel petri dish with Patrick’s help, using a variety of tools. These bacteria contain exogenous DNA that code for enzymes and reagents involved in a chemical reaction that produces turquoise light. After leaving the bacteria to grow overnight, colonies emerged forming mesmerizing glowing patterns in the agar dishes that were then photographed by Patrick.
Preserving the beauty and forms of the original scientific images is something Taylor never forgets to do while working. The first layer of Ondes was actually created using a nineteenth century photographic process (John Herschel, 1842), initially used by botanists, called the cyanotype. In order to produce the initial cyanotype, she first superposed and played with the original microscopic, macroscopic, and aerial images in Photoshop. The combined image was then printed as a large negative (195 x 130cm). This negative was placed onto a canvas covered in photosensitive chemicals (a mix of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate, along with Solarfast, a recently invented multi-colored photosensitive dye). Finally, the ensemble was laid outside in direct sunlight for several hours. Nature ran its course, and Taylor was not satisfied with the sun’s initial interpretation of the image. After a second exposure, she could begin to paint and collage smaller cyanotypes of the same images, printed on Japanese washi paper, into the composition, until it was finished.
The colors used in the painting repeat in many of Taylor’s works and, for her, reference the colors of the four elements of the Earth. Finally, the title was chosen for many reasons. Signifying “waves” in English, “ondes” is a word that allows for many interpretations in both French and English: it can reference the wave forms and creases of the canvas material, those produced as a two-dimensional illusion through painting, and even the vibrations and sound waves we can imagine coming from the synapses themselves. French philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman also defines “onde” broadly as “spacing, form and background” that can be modeled and printed, often providing the illusion of an aura. With the many layers of materials, research, and subjective experiences it combines, Ondes leaves plenty of room for the viewer’s imagination while still showing and highlighting the beauty of the biological samples it is based upon.
Text by Taylor Smith and Nora Assendorp, submission for The Art of Neuroscience, 2018.
Ondes is presented as an installation along with the processes that generated it. Under plexiglass tiles (2m x 1m) lies a composition resembling my studio floor when I created this piece. The individual elements later incorporated into the painting are presented in a chaotic, yet carefully composed selection of paper cyanotypes and the negatives used to produce the first layer of this painting (a cyanotype/solarfast print embedded into the canvas, incorporating superposed microscopic photographs of rat neurons, macroscopic photos of my bioluminescent bacteria drawings, and aerial images of rivers filled with phosphate waste). The viewer is thereby encouraged to look back and forth between the process reflected before the result, showing how the two depend on each other to create a continuous whole.
Right: Image taken by Maria Joana Pinto, PhD, Institut de Biologie de l’École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France of a primary culture of rat hippocampal neurons taken with a confocal microscope. Maria’s image was taken for a project that aimed to explore the mechanisms leading to the formation of new synapses, in particular the presynaptic side of synaptic contacts. These presynaptic bouttons are assembled during development along neuronal ramifications (in the original image as long threads in gray, stained for tubulin).
Paintings generated with bioluminescent bacteria (kanamycin) in collaboration with Patrick Torbey, PhD. I manipulated varying concentrations of this strain of E Coli bacteria to paint it into various compositions using found objects (paper clips, cut plastic, razor blades, paint brushes…) directly onto the agar gel in a petri dish. These bacteria contain exogenous DNA that code for enzymes and reagents involved in a chemical reaction that produces turquoise light. After leaving the bacteria to grow overnight, colonies emerged forming mesmerizing glowing patterns in the agar dishes that were then photographed by Patrick, which I finally printed using the cyanotype technique, and integrated intot the composition of Ondes.