Scientific Art by Artistic Scientists


By Tanya Silverman

The Petri Island Project (detail). Jim Toia. 2012. 100 mm. x 15 dishes by over 1,000 collaborators. Courtesy of SciArt in America.

Biochemical processes and inter-planetary astrophysics probably sound just as interesting as intimidating. Even if many of us are intrigued by scientific discoveries, how can we go about approaching these challenging subjects?

Why not try art? Colorful animal illustrations for anatomy, sonic speaker installations for astrology, or metallic sculptures for robotics are a few methods presented through SciArt in America, an online magazine.

“Chronicling the Space Age in Watercolor” is this month’s Spotlight feature, an article that details Barbara Prey’s brightly inviting paintings of rocket ships launching and flying. In its text, Prey discusses the research strategies that her pieces involved, such as spending six months studying the International Space Station and conversing with scientists. She was hired by the NASA Art Program, a platform created to present their research in ways approachable to the public.

Columbia Tribute. Barbara Prey. Watercolor and drybrush. NASA Commission. Collection NASA. Kennedy Space Center. Courtesy of SciArt in America.

“The way that science is really going to be shared with the general public is not through these scientific papers or articles which really aren’t accessible for a lot of people,” Julia Buntaine, SciArt in America’s editor-in-chief, tells BTR.

Holding a degree in neuroscience, Buntaine herself realizes the limitations in the daunting language and dry technicalities associated with communicating scientific principles. Also educated in studio arts, it’s no surprise that she’s harbored a “lifelong passion” of merging her fields of interests. As such, Buntaine finds ways to communicate the biology of the brain through sculpture and installation; one such instance was last year’s Simply Organic, where she represented dozens of known neurotransmitters through colorful powders stationed on a spice rack.

Buntaine began SciArt in America after moving to New York for graduate school as a means to reach out to other science based artists of assorted disciplines.

“There wasn’t a place online where I thought they were represented and where I felt like I could connect with other people easily,” she says. “I created the publication to feature work and to bolster the community.”

At this point, Buntaine says the science-art community is “very vibrant” and “full of energetic people.” The magazine provides an outlet to network as well as present the processes that science-based artists execute according to their disciplines.

June’s issue, for instance, holds an extensive Q & A with Jim Toia, whose projects involve documenting the psychedelic fungal beauty of mushroom spores or collecting Petri dishes from over 1,000 collaborators to install a colorfully illuminated sculpture.

The next step, a physical space, actually premiers tomorrow night: the SciArt Center. Buntaine looks forward to its launch party at Central Booking on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and knows she’ll be busy as its Executive Director, with all the workshops, exhibits, lectures, and panels to come.

To listen to the audio interview with Julia Buntaine, check out today’s episode of the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BTR.