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The molecular world  is traditionally considered an exclusive province of scientists, yet the advances in computer technology that engendered the present golden age of scientific discovery are opening this realm of nature to artistic exploration as well. Intangibles is a multimedia exhibit dedicated to this premise. At its heart, Intangibles is a naturalistic expression of the molecular frontier; a celebration of the natural world. This exhibit encompasses parallel explorations of molecular forms in sculpture and in artwork that beg comparison with the more familiar imagery of the macroscopic world in which we live...yet these landscapes emerge from a very different place: a strange ultramicroscopic world far beyond the reach of everyday experience. This gulf is bridged by the agencies of science and art, acting in concert to produce a virtual world of forms drawn from nature at scales both large and small.

Plato's Republic gives the allegory of a hypothetical cave in which prisoners are kept from birth. Seeing nothing of the outside world directly - only as shadows cast on the wall of the cave - they have no conception of the real world except by its projected shadow. The implication is that we perceive not the real world itself, but only its image, cast onto the retina through the eye; a distinction is drawn between the actual world and our perception of the world. This philosophical exercise sets the stage for Intangibles: its imagery does not depict the world that we perceive it to depict, but is instead a collection of shadows cast by an alternate world made up of atoms and molecules. Intangibles has itself been placed within an interactive virtual gallery to enhance this experience of otherworldliness: the portrayal of landscapes that cannot be walked and sculpture that cannot be touched issues a direct challenge to conventional perceptions of reality.

If Plato constitutes the thematic bedrock of Intangibles, biological macromolecules, particularly proteins, are its principal subject. The function of any given type of biological molecule is determined by a precise internal arrangement of atoms and of electric charges, resulting in a unique molecular topography - a landscape - that is both functional and dynamic. Intangibles strives to capture these qualities in breathtaking style. Its photographic imagery emulates the stark aesthetic made famous in the work of early twentieth century landscape photographers, driving home the point that today’s scientific frontiers are just as real - and impacting - as the geographic frontiers crossed by early explorers, who brought with them the illustrators and, later, photographers who documented their discoveries.

The sculpture draws upon the same source, marrying truth and beauty through an expression of molecular organization in abstract mien. Virtual sculpture, though lacking a tactile dimension, has its advantages over physical sculpture:  laws of physics do not necessarily apply in a virtual gallery and it becomes possible to create artwork free from physical constraints...or to (by choice) remain constrained. This exhibit contains an example of each.

The surfaces of molecules have hills, valleys, gullies and caves just like their geographical counterparts, but because of their extremely small sizes, they can only be visited by proxy. Scientists do this by creating computer models from structural data determined in the laboratory. Intangibles was created with the help of scientific software normally used for this purpose; the resulting models were subsequently pressed into artistic employ through a variety of computer and photographic techniques.

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Artist Kenneth Eward originally set out to become a scientist, but while undergoing training in cell physiology, he was (quite unsuspectingly) beguiled by art's allure. After receiving a master's degree, he opened his art studio, BioGrafx, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Eward draws from his scientific background in much of his artwork: it's not unusual for him to begin a project in the laboratory. Now a New York expatriate, Eward lives and works in the Midwest.

Eward wishes to thank the scientists whose painstaking labors have uncovered the molecular structures on which Intangibles is based. Thanks also go to the many friends - artists, scientists and physicians alike - who have offered their insight and suggestions to this project.

Structural References

  • Arnott, S., Fulmer, A., Scott, W. E., Dea, I. C., Moorhouse, R., Rees, D. A.: The agarose double helix and its function in agarose gel structure. J Mol Biol 90 pp. 269 (1974)
  • Ghiara, J. B., Stura, E. A., Stanfield, R. L., Profy, A. T., Wilson, I. A.: Crystal structure of the principal neutralization site of HIV-1. Science 264 pp. 82 (1994)
  • Karplus, P. A., Schulz, G. E.: Substrate binding and catalysis by glutathione reductase as derived from refined enzyme: substrate crystal structures at 2 A resolution. J Mol Biol 210 pp. 163 (1989)
  • Kim, J., Woo, D., Rees, D. C.: X-ray crystal structure of the nitrogenase molybdenum-iron protein from Clostridium pasteurianum at 3.0-A resolution. Biochemistry 32 pp. 7104 (1993)
  • Kobe, B., Deisenhofer, J.: A structural basis of the interactions between leucine-rich repeats and protein ligands. Nature 374 pp. 183 (1995)
  • Lee, M. S., Gippert, G. P., Soman, K. V., Case, D. A., Wright, P. E.: Three-dimensional solution structure of a single zinc finger DNA-binding domain. Science 245 pp. 635 (1989)
  • Madden, D. R., Garboczi, D. N., Wiley, D. C. The antigenic identity of peptide-MHC complexes: a comparison of the conformations of five viral peptides presented by HLA-A2. Cell 75 pp. 693 (1993)

© Kenneth Eward 1998, 2003. All rights reserved.