Author: Ana Lucia Mena – Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, Portugal

Science and art projects are becoming more and more popular, bringing together the scientific and artistic communities. These projects may involve artistic residences in research centres, where artists and scientists can engage with each other in a routinely basis for a short period of time. Works of art gain shape as outcomes of such interaction. However, it is not that common to find musical pieces inspired by science and composed within the frame of an artistic residence.

The artistic residence of the French-Dutch composer Camille van Lunen at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), in Portugal, is one of such rare examples. With complete freedom to interact with scientists from that biological research institute, Camille was inspired to compose the piece “Quatuor pour l’Aurore des Temps”. This musical piece has three movements that address cell division, crystallization of proteins, and a viral attack to a cell. To create it, the composer had to understand the biological basis of these processes, and to imagine how they would sound if one could hear them.

Contrary to what happens with a painting or a sculpture, which once finished is ready to be exhibited, the performance of a musical piece requires further work from the musical perspective. In the pre-premiere of this piece the composer and a scientist joined hands to talk about the science and the creative process behind this piece to an audience composed of lay public and scientists.

In this communication I will reflect on the work developed during this artistic residence, the impact it had in the scientific community, and the challenges faced to present this science & music project to the public. The premier of “Quatuor pour l’Aurore des Temps” can be heard here:

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Show, tell and talk
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Comparing science communication across cultures

Author: Ana Mena, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Portugal

Co-authors: Alexandra Paio, Luís Rocha, Manuel Marques-Pita, Maria de Assis

Science and Art projects can address difficult scientific messages, resulting in enriching experiences to the visitors. But how easy is it to create a multidisciplinary project with a strong scientific message? The interactive installation “Musical Morphogenesis” is a multidisciplinary project based on 6 main disciplines: complex systems, computational biology, music, architecture, robotics, and science communication. The implementation of all components of the installation had to take into consideration the specificities of each discipline, turning this into an extremely challenging project.

The main objective of “Musical Morphogenesis” was to take visitors in a sensorial journey to explore the dynamic interactions of genes and proteins during the development of an organ. Such biological processes are highly complex, with the same set of genes controlling the morphology of different organs depending on when they are activated. Taking advantage of a mathematical model of the gene-regulatory network responsible for the development of Arabidopsis thaliana flowers, the interdisciplinary team joined hands to create an installation whereby users can explore and play with the development of flowers at a human scale. The installation is composed of a robotic flower, whose kinetics reflects the temporal progression of the genetic network as it controls flower development, as well as of an interface to interact with the installation. Visitors can turn on or off one or more genes, steering the network towards the formation of different mutant organs. Finally, to facilitate the comprehension of the network, each gene has specific sound.

During the first public exhibition, the installation was highly appreciated as a piece of art and entertainment, but the scientific message was perhaps not conveyed as clearly as desirable. Based on this feedback, the installation has been remodeled. In this presentation, I will reflect on the challenges that were raised and solutions found to better convey the message.