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Six Ted Talks on Biologically Inspired Art

2013 August 1
by Shared by Steve Rust

Reposted from

Art so often seeks to capture the beauty of the natural world — from cave drawings of animals, to paintings of landscapes, to sculptures of the human form in marble, bronze or wood. But in this playlist, find artists and designers who take this to the next level, making art based on the laws of nature and the invisible workings of biology itself.

Tom Shannon: The painter and the pendulum
In this interview, John Hockenberry questions artist Tom Shannon about his metallic sculptures that levitate, and about how his scientific inspiration has evolved over time. Shannon says that his art starts with the need to solve a question — a process similar to scientific exploration. In the privacy of Shannon’s studio, we see work that challenges the idea that objects can’t defy gravity, as well as a sculpture that simply exemplifies the complex relationship between earth and sun.

Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology
Ever wondered what a molecule looks like? Well, your naked eye won’t help answer that question. “Molecules are smaller than the wavelength of light, so we have no way to directly observe them,” says biomedical animator Drew Berry, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010. By immersing himself in the world of cutting edge scientific research, Berry has made molecular and cellular biology accessible for the masses. In this talk from TEDxSydney, he uses intricately rendered animations to traverse the DNA highway into the depths of cells.

Doris Kim Sung: Metal that breathes
Before houses had air conditioning, they used tiny windows and thick walls to combat extreme weather and regulate temperature. Before cars had air conditioning, they overheated and thus signaled to us the overuse of energy. Fast forward to today, where impossibly cold stores have become the norm. How do we make our buildings work better? At TEDxUSC, biology student turned architect Doris Kim Sung shares how she studied the human body to learn how skin regulates body temperature and, from that research, developed the smart material known as “thermo-bimetals.” She reveals how panels of this material can be used to create responsive ‘building skins’ that help our buildings breathe beautifully and efficiently.

Margaret Wertheim: The beautiful math of coral
In 2005, Margaret Wertheim and her sister, Christine, asked the internet and art institutions alike to join an interdisciplinary project that combined math, marine biology, environmental activism and feminine handicraft. With thousands helping, they set out to crochet the largest coral reef in the world to raise awareness of the impact global warming has on this massive, living ecosystem. In this talk from TED2009, Wertheim explains that the mathematical study of hyperbolic structures (aka, things frilly and curly) discovered in the 19th century couldn’t be depicted until Dr. Daina Taimina began to knit in 1997 and eventually crocheted a coral reef.

JoAnn Kuchera-Morin: Stunning data visualization in the allosphere
If you can imagine being inside a computer that looks like an omnitheater, you can partially imagine the mysterious, three-story metal arena known as the Allosphere. This echo-free chamber, connected to a very large computer, was created as an interdisciplinary center for artists, scientists and engineers to work together.

Lucy McRae: How technology can transform the human body
Lucy McRae is a self-proclaimed ‘body architect.’ How does one get that title? She has a background in ballet, architecture and fashion, with an added interest in transforming the human body. While working for Philips Electronics, McRae worked on projects that resembled sci-fi realities, but working on prototypes wasn’t enough. She began to ask questions about communication and sexual attraction —  like “Would it be possible to create swallowable pills that allow you to perspire perfume to attract partners?” Watch this talk from TED2012 to see her provocative, visionary work exploring the limitless future of biology and technology.



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