Reinterpreting Biotechnology_Jillian Cross

Reinterpreting Biotechnology: Digital Art

While doing research for this week’s blog, I came across one artist in particular who instantly gained my attention. Hunter O’Reilly (now Hunter Cole) was originally trained as a geneticist and now uses her knowledge of both genetics and of art to reach out and deliver a message to the masses through digital artwork. What I find so fascinating about Cole is that she is originally a scientist who decided to use art as a gateway to educate others. She “reinterprets biotechnology through digital art.” While she is very excited about her discoveries in the lab, she also works on an emotional level to bring specific biotech issues to the public.

The quote about her artwork that grabbed me was that it is “visually beautiful, but intellectually frightening.” This is a fascinating statement when you think about it. Many people see one side or the other (the beauty or the fear) and I think it takes a rare person to see both. The beautiful and frightening oxymoron seems to follow many people in their daily lives without them realizing it. For example, a person may be appreciating the hot sun on a clear day. Beautiful, clear skies are all around them on this hot day in January and they are appreciating the beauty that is nature.

On the other hand, however, one could view this abnormal heat in January as incredibly frightening. It could be further evidence of global warming, the melting of icebergs and the changes in our climate that will be devastating to the human population. Beauty and fear can go hand in hand and Cole definitely captures that in many of her pieces.

We talked about the issues behind cloning in lecture this past week. Cole also addresses some of these issues in her art. In “A Clone is not a Copy,” Cole shows that although the DNA of a cloned cat is the same as that of its “mother’s”, the actual appearance of the cat is different. Part of her work is to show that clones are not exact copies of the original, but that they are unique individuals with different appearances and even different personalities. Cole believes that the environment and timing of a clone’s “birth” affects the personality of that clone more so than the DNA. This is a fascinating work of art because it does show the physical differences in the clone while also showing the identical DNA. It helps the viewers understand the ideas and ethics behind cloning on another level.

A Clone is Not a Copy:

Much of her artwork incorporates beauty and science as well as a stance on a popular issue regarding biotechnology. For example, Cole designed a piece entitled “Anthrax Clock” in which she illustrates the effects of anthrax on a human being through images. By creating the work in a clock form, Cole is bringing attention to a more pressing issue: time. Behind the clock lies the implication that a bioterrorism attack can happen at virtually any time. And once the attack does happen, will there be enough time to save everyone?

Anthrax clock:

This type of artwork serves not only to educate people on the effects of anthrax, but also to allow people to stop and think about the concept of time and bioterrorism. By incorporating actual images of the anthrax bacteria into her piece, Cole further cements the bond between science and art. The images she uses can help people understand more of the biology behind something. She employs the technique of using art and science in her genetics classes. She has her students do pretty standard experiments, but then has them turn those experiments into art as well. She feels that the art can help her students learn more than the basic experiment teaches.

                Cole states that she thinks that “People see science as inherently more important.” However, she thinks art does have a more important place and is trying to combine them both to help educate the public as well as giving art that more predominant place in society.

                In Cole’s work, “A Few Cells Create a Kidney and a New Life: Portrait of Shauna Anderson,” one can see that she works diligently as both a scientist and an artist. Each detail in the piece incorporates some part of Shauna’s story and serves to educate viewers on the importance of stem cell research and reproduction. 

This article describes the specifics details within the artwork:

A Few Cells Create a Kidney and a New Life:

                Since Cole is a scientist, an artist and an activist (she uses her works to bring attention to certain issues), people tend to criticize and question her ethical values. What amazes me is that she believes so strongly in everything she is doing, she handles all of the negative responses and continues to get her point across in the most effective manner she can think of. I believe that she in an excellent example of a combination of art and biotechnology.



Other Interesting Hunter Cole Links:

Interview with Cole:

One of Cole’s exhibits:

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