CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS
2017 – 2020
Representing Biology as Process
Anderson (Co-I), Dupré (PI), Wakefield (Co-I)
Arts & Humanities Research Council funded project
The question – whether we should think of the world as consisting of entities statically defined by essential properties (i.e. in philosophical jargon, “substances”), or as processes, that undergo and persist precisely because of change – is a fundamental metaphysical dichotomy, debated since the pre-Socratics. Since the rise of atomism in the seventeenth century the substance view has dominated scientifically grounded philosophy. John Dupré’s ERC-funded project, A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology, develops the thesis that for biology, at least, this has been a profound mistake (Dupré 2012: Nicholson and Dupré, in press). Dupré argues that living systems are always dynamic at multiple spatial and temporal scales and their persistence, far from being merely the continued possession of essential properties, is the result of the finely articulated interplay of multiple processes.
Visual representation is essential both to the practice and the communication of science. However, whereas drawing in the past played a central role in fields such as morphology and embryology, the rise of photographic and digital technologies and the growing emphasis on molecules as opposed to whole organisms have increasingly marginalized drawing practices. Therefore, a serious problem faced in the development of a fully processual biology is that most visual representation strongly suggests a realm of static things. For example, the presentation of an organism will be of a particular developmental ‘stage’, typically the mature adult, which confounds the fact that this is a momentary temporal stage of the developmental process. Even where representation of something as plainly dynamic as metabolism, for example, will include arrows representing time, the natural reading will be of transitions between a fixed array of things (instances of chemical kinds). Moreover, while visual images or ‘visual explanations’ (Tufte 1997) in science depend on a variety of graphic devices ranging from the use of video, and photography to the use of computational graphic software, simulation and hand-drawing, these means of making images largely depend on mechanistic models (for, or of, their objects) which are already intertwined with their methods of production.
The decline of drawing in scientific practice is epitomised by Wakefield’s research field, cell division and mitosis. Whereas 20 years ago, as a PhD student, his learning was centred around direct participation, through microscope-based observation and drawing of cells, his own PhD students are now further removed, watching 2D representations of cells on computer screens and printing out screen-shots. For the last 5 years, his interest in this distinction has grown, leading to an exploratory collaboration with the PI and, through this application, the Co-I. Anderson’s work over a number of years has highlighted the epistemic costs of the decline of graphic skills in the Life Sciences. She has researched the ways in which scientists have used drawing as a way of developing deep insights into their subject matters, and in her own practice, under the rubric of ‘Isomorphology’, she has developed classificatory methods that highlight formal parallels cutting across the traditional boundaries of animal, mineral and vegetable. This work has been carried out in collaboration with a variety of scientists and museum curators and has resulted in residencies, exhibitions, talks and workshops. Building on the Isomorphology project, her more recent work, guided in part by extensive discussions with Dupré, has begun to explore ways of representing biological process, under the new rubric of Isomorphogenesis.
In line with the growing interest in process-centred understandings of biology, the present project will address the need for novel image-making practices to provide more intuitively dynamic representations of living systems through an innovative collaboration between art, biology and philosophy.
2016 – 2021
Collaborating with 3C in G at Imperial College
I am collaborating with mathematicians Professor Alessio Corti and Professor Tom Coates (and team) at Imperial College London on the 3C in G project (2016-2021) ‘Classification, Computation, and Construction: New Methods in Geometry’
PAST RESEARCH PROJECTS
2014 – 2015
The experience of working in both artistic and scientific contexts led me to found the ‘Cornwall Morphology and Drawing Centre’ (CMADC) in 2014, a space that brought practices, questions, knowledge and objects of art and science together. CMADC has provided a live testing ground for sharing my own drawing practices of Isomorphology, the Goethe drawing method, and Isomorphogenesis with the public. In this respect, CMADC contributed to contemporary practices that consider artwork as an educational medium, as associated with the ‘Educational Turn’.
The use of dematerialized mediums such as drawing workshops, fieldwork and discussions aims to expand the question of education as art in the context of CAST – an artist studio group and project space. CMADC aimed to explore ways in which art practice and learning can draw directly from Cornwall’s morphology resources: the landscape (fieldwork), Museum and University specimens and Art and Science practitioners.
Drawing as Epistemology for Morphology
PhD Research Project, 2011-2015 (Part-time scholarship)
A collaboration between the following institutions: University of the Arts London, Falmouth University
and The Natural History Museum, London
Leverhulme Artist in Residence Award 2012
Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London
This residency allowed Anderson to explore mathematical and biological forms that she would otherwise not be able to access. Through exhibitions of her work and a publication, these forms have been made visible and accessible to the public in both an artistic and scientific context. Anderson’s experience of observational drawing informs her lateral connections between the ‘hidden forms’ of mathematics and forms observed in nature, providing a new entry point and comparison through which the public can approach and access these challenging and fascinating geometries. More about the project here
Wellcome Trust Arts Award 2010
‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’
In 2009-2010, Anderson won a Wellcome Trust Arts Award titled ‘Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’
described as ‘unique in Art History as the first series of portraits to mix psychiatrists and psychiatric patients indiscriminately in one collection’ (Jordanova, Schupbach 2010). The series of 16 life size etchings and accompanying publication has toured the UK and is currently held in the collections of the Wellcome Trust and the Victoria and Albert Museum. This collaboration between Anderson and Forensic Psychiatrist Dr.Tim McInerny (Bethlem Royal Hospital), enabled the artist to enter each individual’s environment; The Bethlem Royal Hospital, The Maudsley, London Health centres and schools, and even individuals homes. In this series of fourteen life-size etched portraits, the individual is identified, not by name and occupation, but visually, by their biographies and internal personal lives. Public and private self are united through Andersons curiosity and compassion; as her probing of inner worlds, as bizarre and entangled for the practitioners as the patients, links all the portraits together. The etchings explore medical ‘phenomena’ such as neuroses, phobias, traumas, disability, disease and injury. These portraits are ‘medical’ in a special and profound sense that notions of medicalization cannot capture.
This project toured the UK and has been exhibited at the Freud Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum where it is now in their permanent collections.
The publication Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists accompanies the body of work.