Campus & Community

OfA, Systems Biology co-sponsor art residency

3 min read

Venturing into the crosscurrents of art and science, the Office for the Arts at Harvard (OfA) and the Department of Systems Biology (DSB) at the Harvard Medical School (HMS) are co-sponsoring a public art residency by artist Brian Knep for the 2005-06 academic year. For this novel initiative, the Office of the Provost has awarded a grant from its Fund for Interfaculty Collaboration.

For more information about the artist

In addition to creating a new, temporary public artwork to be presented in April 2006, Knep is meeting with undergraduates throughout the academic year and spending one day each week at HMS interacting with faculty and students. The residency also will include a public slide lecture by Knep on April 11 and a series of roundtable discussions exploring the intersection of art and science.

Knep’s creations span the realms of visual imagination, technology, and science. “I’ve been trying to find what I think of as the ‘soul’ in technology,” states the artist, “by creating works that show the complexity, in behavior and aesthetics, of natural objects – works that interact with people and encourage interaction among people.”

For example, a recent computer-generated work, “Drift Grid/I,” consists of 16 dynamic panels with shapes that slowly drift upwards, changing as they cross each panel. When a viewer looks at a particular column of panels, the shapes on that column shift their movement – continuing to grow, but no longer drifting upwards – in reaction to the viewer’s gaze. The artwork is programmed using algorithms, which might be characterized as computational “recipes.” One of the algorithms, often found in security applications, uses frames from a video camera to find human faces. This algorithm then “talks” with another, which models natural patterns such as zebra stripes and seashell markings, to create the changing shapes. Driven by technology, “Drift Grid/I” nevertheless evokes the basic elements of organic life and human experience: contact, growth, and change.

Carl W. Walter Professor of Systems Biology Marc Kirschner, chair of DSB, notes that Knep’s work demonstrates many of the concepts central to systems biology. “The behavior of the patterns is complex and ‘feels’ like life,” says Kirschner, “changing in response to the environment, but overall retaining the same look and feel – just as a living organism will be different in detailed structure and behavior depending on its environment, but will still be recognizable as a particular species.”

Based in the Boston area, Knep has exhibited his art internationally, from the Insa Art Center in Seoul, Korea, and Haus der Musik in Vienna, Austria, to the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Mass. He has collaborated on technology initiatives with organizations such as the MIT Media Lab and Mitsubishi Electric Research. Knep also previously developed effects and production software for feature films and has received two Academy Awards for his work with Industrial Light & Magic. He holds his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brown University.