Monday, January 28, 2008


In 2002, students of biology and fine arts collaborated at MSU-Bozeman, a large state school, to create an exhibit called Bioglyphs. The students cultivated petri dishes of bioluminescent bacteria and artfully arranged the dishes on gallery walls. Kill the lights, and dazzling patterns appear. The installation was expanded in New York on the campus of Manhattan College, a small Roman Catholic school. An interesting difference arises between the two exhibits in the interpretations of their viewers. MSU conceived of the project as a fusion of art and science, and most of the comments in the guestbook address the beauty and educational value of the Bioglyphs. Alternatively, the Manhattan College exhibit was considered by some a religious experience, with one viewer describing the dishes as “a sacred space prepared with and containing the living.” Another patron was reminded “of the Notre Dame stained glass windows.”

It is no stretch to think about the display in a religious register. “Bioglyph” is a riff on hieroglyph, which is a backformation of hieroglyphics. The Greek word hierogluphikos is derived from the parts hieros, meaning “sacred,” and gluphÄ“, or “carving” (Oxford American Dictionary). The word “hieroglyphics” contains within it the holy, and while it is most often used denotatively to describe the historical writing system, it can also be used figuratively to mean any writing that is enigmatic, elusive, even incomprehensible—quite at odds with the mission of science. One can then view Bioglyphs as mysterious, inconclusive experiments, a sacred script vivified, made through science with a sense of awe.

This artwork is definitely an interesting case study. I've got some ideas gestating, but I think I need to sleep on it.

Check out the Bioglyphs website:



JL said...

Hi, Mike--

Yet another great idea we should consider. Keep up the good work, M and A.


Andrew W. said...

I like the example of these 'bioglyphs' in the sense that they are a testament to the subjectivity of art, and this subjectivity is obviously influenced, at least partially, by setting. Following our comments about sacred space and spirituality surrounding art, I think it will be difficult for us to find artwork that speaks to everyone who views it. However, I think we can partially influence this by making sure we match, somehow, with the setting of the Science Center.

I don't mean the fact that the building is a 'center for science,' but I mean the physical, sensual setting. If we have some sort of central piece in the atrium area, the color and design of its surroundings shouldn't contrast sharply.

Would it be possible for us to have a say in the selection of colors? I know Prof. Curtin mentioned something about the color scheme already, and I doubt we could choose too many of the aesthetic qualities. Still, is that really that disconnected from what we're trying to do?

If we combine surroundings and artwork that complement each other, it would certainly do anything but diminish the overall effect of the art. I think it'll create more of a 'feeling' of sacredness or spirituality.

JL said...

AW--I think we could have some say, at least the ability to suggest, changes in the color scheme. Not sure how MUCH say, but my sense is that these folks are still at the level of being open to our input.