Tangible Variations On View in "Seeing the Unseen" at Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art

August 21, 2023

"Tangible Variations (cubehelix): 5000, 5500, 6000", 2022, installation view

August 21-November 18, 2023
Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Curated by Rebecca Trawick






Tangible Variations will be included in the upcoming group exhibition Seeing the Unseen: Science + Art which examines the intersections of science and art through contemporary art practice. Tangible Variations is a series of woven scientific visualizations generated from computational biology simulations. The weavings, created in collaboration with theoretical biophysicist Adam Lamson at the Flatiron Institute, explore the emergence of abstraction and noise in material translations of computational representations of the molecular world.

Seeing the Unseen: Science and Art is a group exhibition featuring works of art that investigate the intersections of the sciences and the arts. The exhibition asks several prescient questions including: Why do artists engage with science? Why are scientists interested in visual or creative representations of their work? Are these collaborations creating clarity or new access points for information in the STEM fields? Are artists expressing and making visible the work of scientists and science? The exhibition further attempts to increase our understanding of how art and science influence each other. The artists in the exhibition engage in new methods of scientific research in their rigorous and awe-inspiring works of art. Seeing the Unseen is the first of two exhibitions presented during the 23-24 academic year that explores the intersections of the arts and STEM. Both exhibitions are presented in collaboration with the STEM Academic and Career Community. The fall exhibition is curated by Professors Joann Eisberg, Robin Ikeda, Mark Padilla, and Wignall Museum Director and Curator, Rebecca Trawick.


David Bowen, Hannah Chalew, Catherine Chalmers, Maru Garcia, David S. Goodsell, Lia Halloran, Juniper Harrower, Elizabeth Hénaff, Karey Kessler, Laura Splan

Studio Press Release: Laura Splan Studios

Artist Laura Splan will exhibit works from her Tangible Variations (2022) series of computerized Jacquard weavings in the group exhibition, Seeing the Unseen: Science + Art, at the Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art (Rancho Cucamonga, CA). The exhibition brings together the work of ten contemporary artists whose practices operate at the intersection of science and art.

Laura Splan is an interdisciplinary artist who routinely incorporates and interrogates scientific tools, technologies, and visualizations in her artworks, often taking the form of immersive installations or tactile objects. Splan created her Tangible Variations series of weavings in collaboration with Adam Lamson, a Science Collaborator and theoretical biophysicist at the Flatiron Institute, a division of the Simons Foundation. Lamson creates computational simulations of how DNA organizes itself inside a cell with implications for how spatial shifts on a molecular scale can manifest changes in gene expression.

Sticky Settings is the overarching title for Splan and Lamson’s sciart collaboration supported by the Simons Foundation, which to date also includes animations and soundscapes, in addition to the weavings of Tangible Variations. The phrase “sticky settings” is borrowed from a computer software context, which refers to user-selected settings that a program “remembers” for subsequent sessions. Lamson and Splan found this usage analogous to those used in epigenetics research to describe DNA “bookmarking” – how genes can toggle on or off, and potentially “stick” with their state to be inherited by offspring. Splan and Lamson share an interest in how, over time, sticky settings have important implications for gene expression and overall health.

The abstract patterns found in Tangible Variations are result of multiple layers of translation, interpretation, and experimentation, performed by Lamson and Splan through the various technologies they employ in their working processes. Each of Splan’s computerized Jacquard woven tapestries traces its origin back to Lamson’s 3D chromatin simulations, from which he infers contact, also known as Hi-C, maps. These are essentially 2D scientific visualizations that detail how a genome is organized and predict the proximity of two parts of the genome. The contact maps are a “snapshot” of the molecular form at a single point in time, whereas the kymograph aggregate and represent all chromatin configurations over the duration of a simulation. Working from Lamson’s visualizations, Splan creates large, wall-displayed weavings made using a computerized Jacquard loom to explore what might emerge through a shift in materiality.

Across a grouping of three weavings, titled Tangible Variations (cubehelix): 5000, 5500, 6000 (all 2022), an intricate gridded pattern repeats with subtle variations in composition, evolving from one to the next. Based on three Hi-C maps, differences in composition between the weavings reveal changes in molecular configurations, with contrasting areas of light and dark indicating varying degrees of interaction. A stark, white diagonal bisects the imagery of each textile, extending from the lower left corner to the upper right to establish a mirrored, fractal-like configuration of bright clusters bleeding into one another or else receding into an inky expanse. An individual tapestry, Tangible Variations (cubehelix): kymograph (2022) deviates from the stark rectilinear patterning seen in her triptych, instead depicting an organic, rippling field of staticky textures. If a Hi-C map is like a film still, a kymograph is the entire film reel; it aggregates all the interactions tracked over the full duration of the simulation, showing the process unfolding over time from left to right. Deep blue and green threads dominate a dark and densely scrawled form that seeps in from the left edge of the tapestry towards the center, before abruptly yielding to patchy, undulating swathes of noise. The term “cubehelix” in the artwork titles derives from the name of the color map or palette used by Lamson and Splan in the works. Developed by Dave Green of the Astrophysics Group at University of Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory, cubehelix is a specific spectrum of colors designed to factor in the perception of color intensity, color vision deficiency, and reproducibility in black and white to ensure legibility of scientific visualizations across a broad range of users and applications. It is based on an RGB (red, green, and blue) color model, the same as a computer screen, and similar to their weavings’ palette of red, green, blue, yellow, white, and black threads.

As a scientist might introduce a random factor or seed to drive a computation, Splan’s decision to reimagine Lamson’s visualizations as computerized Jacquard weavings for artistic purposes catalyzes a host of intended and unforeseen deviations. The works that comprise Tangible Variations represent information at a much larger scale than their source; this, in combination with the interwoven nature of the textiles, results in some loss in translation while making way for new interpretations. Areas of repetition in the resulting woven image are thrown into greater relief, distilling patterns in the weave that were not readily apparent before Splan rendered them as tactile objects. In a poetic gesture, the fibers that make up the Tangible Variations echo the simulated genetic fibers that informed their designs. Their familiar materiality and the ability to interact with the weavings as aesthetic objects afford viewers an unexpected, embodied way to experience an interpretation of abstract, molecular phenomena.

— Text by Renee Delosh

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