Artist’s Work at the Intersection of Art and Life Sciences

Author: Gene Stowe


The remarkable artwork of Patricia Olynyk will be on display in the Jordan Hall of Science from Aug. 28–Sept. 25. Olynyk, director of the graduate school of art at Washington University in Saint Louis, creates large installations that combine her photographs of sense organs, taken with an electron micrograph, with her photographs of Japanese gardens designed to excite the senses. The displays include sounds recorded at the gardens. Olynyk will give a lecture in Jordan Hall on Thursday, Sept. 10.

The electron micrograph, an important tool for biological research, provides detailed images of sense organs, including human corneas for sight, mouse taste buds and olfactory epithelia for taste and smell, guinea pig cochlea for hearing and drosophila feet for touch. Photographs and sounds from gardens in the Kansai region of Japan provide the stimuli from creation that those organs are made to receive. The combination creates an awareness of the spaces we inhabit and how we sense them, a consciousness known as cenesthesia. The inclusion of organs from different species highlights the shared ability to sense the natural world.

The project also provides a vivid example of the intersection of art and the life sciences.
Olynyk’s ability to bridge the disciplines, among other things, made her the first non-scientist awarded a research associate professorship at the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute. She also has an undergraduate degree from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Canada and an MFA with Distinction from the California College of the Arts. She studied Japanese contemporary art at Kyoto Seika University for four years. Her work has also been shown at several national and international exhibits, including the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. A collaboration between Mary Ann McDowell of the Department of Biological Sciences and Jean A. Dibble of the Department of Art, Art History & Design brought her to campus.

The visit is sponsored by Boehnen Fund for Excellence in the Arts and the College of Science.