Project Details

Representing Biology as Process

Gemma Anderson, 2017, Other

This project aims to develop and explore the epistemological value of drawing for contemporary scientific practice. Through practice-based study–with researchers at the KLI, I will develop new drawing methods that demonstrate the potential for exploring biological/morphogenetic process through the combination of artistic and scientific methods. Unlike more standard ‘visual explanations’, here drawing harnesses human creativity as an integral part of the interpretation and representation of phenomena.

As an artist, researcher and university lecturer, my practice lies at the interface of art, science and philosophy. With an original focus on drawing as epistemology for morphology and as an alternative approach to classification, I have successfully collaborated on a number of innovative art/science projects. These include ‘Hidden Geometries’ (Leverhulme Trust Artist in residence Award 2012) in collaboration with the Mathematics Department at Imperial College London; the ‘Cornwall Morphology and Drawing Centre’ (funded by Falmouth University Research and Innovation Award, 2014 & 2015) in collaboration with the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum, London; and ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’ (Wellcome Trust Arts Award 2009) in collaboration with psychiatrists and patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital. My PhD research included the ‘Isomorphology’ project (in collaboration with the Natural History Museum), in which I used drawing to create an alternative and visual approach to the classification of animal, mineral and vegetable species. Following Isomorphology, under the influence of Dupré’s Process Philosophy of Biology, I began to realise a processual view of biological form through the drawing method and process-oriented series of drawings ‘Isomorphogenesis’ (2014).

In my work, I have explored the epistemic potential of drawing in the context of biology and mathematics and its role in articulating a ‘representational grammar’ (Kress and Leewen, 2006) to facilitate the understanding of complex scientific concepts that can be difficult to achieve through description alone (Anderson, 2014; Anderson et al., 2015). The processual nature of biological phenomena raises new problems, in that a visual image must attempt to represent four dimensions (three spatial dimensions, and time). Whereas technologies for presenting moving images, such as time-lapse videos, offer advantages over static technologies, they nevertheless create distance between the interaction with the phenomena represented and the representation. Drawing provides a more engaged access to and reflection on the phenomenon of investigation than merely ‘witnessing’ the mechanical generation of biological representations through various imaging devices.

This project will explore the potential of drawing as a way of representing and interrogating biological processes, especially in relation to morphological evolution (Barbara Fischer, Gerhard Müller) and the analysis of dynamical systems in terms of phase space geometry and potential landscapes (Berta Verd, Johannes Jäger). The project is timely as these fields are fast developing whereas the epistemological value of the image–as process and object - within these sciences remains largely unexamined.

I aim to position drawing as an interdisciplinary tool and practice for the visual understanding of types of biological processes and their dynamic interactions. I will build on my experience of drawing morphological development in four dimensions in collaboration with mathematician Alessio Corti (Anderson and Corti, 2015), and further develop this work by integrating methods by artists such as Paul Klee who have pioneered techniques for the representation of dynamics. During this project, I also aim to build new connections with the wider Vienna arts community. In particular, I will strengthen existing relationships with Austrian artists’ Nikolaus Gansterer and Virgil Widrich (University of the Applied Arts, Vienna).