Cellular was shown at the PDX Gallery in Portland Oregon in the fall of 2008, screened at Goldsmiths college, The Royal college of Art the Conference on Art and Society in Venice Italy in 2009 and at Western Washington University in 2009. The film and photos will be shown at the Shelton Museum in 2010.
Since 1996, I have been looking at and making artwork about the dynamic process of cell division. This preoccupation began with a personal encounter. I had witnessed the incredible phenomena of growth and destruction of diseased cells.
This fall, when I asked a colleague Steve Black, Professor of Developmental Biology and Zoology at Reed College, if he had any images of gastolaztion he could share, an entirely new world was opened to me. Most images we see of biological specimens are flat and still, but the inventions of the stereomicroscope with film capture technology has enabled researchers to capture images akin to how our eyes see, in three dimensions and in motion. The stereomicroscope has made it possible to record the physical form and the inner workings of a cell. This is vital technology in the fields of embryology, fertilization and the understanding of cellular anomalies.
Steve’s lab uses three-dimensional photographs and film capture technology to understand the cellular mechanics of gastrulation, the process by which a spherically symmetrical egg is rearranged to have axes such as an inside and an outside; a front and a back; a top and a bottom; a right side and a left side. From these films, they can compare different species and development as it occurs.
Cellular is a film of several blastopores, or a multiple cell embryo projected onto an 8 x 8’ semi translucent semi translucent screen occupying half of the smaller exhibition space at the Western Gallery. Each segment of the film is a result of more than 200 hours of still images of each embryo made with Atonics Micro fire digital cameras mounted on Olympus stereomicroscopes and made into a film using Astor IIDC imaging software. Steve Black and his research assistant Allison Egar provided me with films of the blastopore and allowed me to work with them to make a film of endless development. To make my film, I edited 10 different films of gastrulation to overlap and repeat the phases of development just before a recognizable body is evident. Watching an endless loop of an egg development and cells dividing is meditative. It looks like we are witnessing the beginning of the earth’s formation or plate tectonics. The pacing is nervous and then fluid. Each egg’s gestation is unique, even though it is the same species. The blastopore, or a multiple cell embryo, is what all creatures begin as. The conditions and the health of the egg determined its survival. This extraordinary phenomenon happens continually and without us knowing.
A set of prints made from the film Cellular occupies the walls of a smaller space next to the film. To make this set of prints, I worked closely with Allison Egar, to record the major stages of gestation, looking at the subtle, but developmentally significant events in each. Throughout this process, it became increasingly clear to me that early embryonic development is flexible, with considerable variation observed even within a single genus.
Professor Steve Black, Allison Edgar and Judith Levine for the raw films clips.
Michael Flashman, for help making paper, assistance with fabrication and dialogue.
The Mellon Foundation for Faculty Development