Artists explain their STEM-themed art at DVAA exhibit

  • William Rathbun’s neon collages are on display as part of the STEM-y Art and Science exhibit at the Deerfield Valley Art Association in Northfield on Sunday. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Non-pathogenic bacteria art by Maria Penil and Mehmet Berkmen is on display as part of the STEM-y Art and Science exhibit at the Deerfield Valley Art Association in Northfield on Sunday, Sept. 23. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

  • Fungi art made of felt and other textiles made by Flo Rosenstock at the Deerfield Valley Art Association as part of the STEM-y Art and Science exhibit at the Deerfield Valley Art Association in Northfield on Sunday, Sept. 23. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Non-pathogenic bacteria is on display as part of the STEM-y Art and Science exhibit at the Deerfield Valley Art Association in Northfield on Sunday, Sept. 23 through November. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

  • Mehmet Berkmen gave a talk on making art with bacteria as part of the STEM-y Art and Science exhibit at the Deerfield Valley Art Association in Northfield on Sunday, Sept. 23. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

  • Bacteria art on display at the Deerfield Valley Art Association, is still growing in agar according to Mehmet Berkmen, a scientist from New England Biolabs, as part of the STEM-y Art and Science exhibit at the Deerfield Valley Art Association in Northfield on Sunday, Sept. 23. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2018 7:34:43 AM

NORTHFIELD — STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — from fungi, bacteria or medical sciences is not typically associated with art. But the Deerfield Valley Art Association wanted to revise that notion with a STEAM-themed (including art) exhibit, open to the public through November.

Exhibits include fungi by Flo Rosenstock, of Amherst, neon light collages by William Rathbun, of Leverett, and Pacifico “Tony” Palumbo, of Shelburne. An artist reception was also held, featuring a presentation about another exhibit of non-pathogenic bacteria by Marie Penil and Mehmet Berkmen.

Berkmen said Penil was unable to attend the reception, but gave the presentation on how they began making bacteria art.

In his presentation, Berkmen said he taught Penil, a volunteer in his lab, the basics of microbiology which allowed her to make art with bacteria.

“You take agar you melt it and you pour it into a petri dish and then you basically take your colorful bacteria and you do your art,” Berkmen said. “Compare to most static forms of art, it’s very unique. It has its own challenges — for one, you’re painting with invisible ink.”

He said the bacteria are still growing in the dishes as they are on display — including a photograph of “day one” to compare the status of the dish as it exists today.

Like some paintings, Berkmen said, it can take up to weeks or months to process the bacteria, and it took Penil about one to two years to get familiar with the process of growing bacteria.

“You are familiar with the false debate of separating science and art, and this dichotomy that they’re supposed to be separate fields. I totally don’t believe in that,” Berkmen said. “I think it’s all the same process. This is another mission of ours. We would love to bring bacteria to the visible, engage the public with it and to close that science-art gap.”

He said like art, every time a scientists does an experiment, they have more questions than answers.

Rathbun said he saw the intersection of math and science in his work through the history of neon lighting.

“It came into existence in the early 1900s, when it was discovered that you could put neon into a glass tube and charge it with electricity and it would glow red,” Rathbun said. “Whether or not they realized it, they created a new artform. It created a new medium, like pencil or paint.”

He said he enjoyed working with neon because it was like bending light.

Similarly, Rosenstock said she chose to work with felt and fabric arts to replicate fungi and plant life like a lotus pod.

After seeing photographs by an Australian photographer, Rosenstock said she used the photos to allow her to create the likeness of the fungi in felt form.

“I found a wonderful Australian photographer who photographed mushrooms I would never come across here, and I asked him if I could use his photos to make art and display his photos alongside them, and he said yes,” Rosenstock said.

She said her first felted mushrooms were inspired by bioluminescent plants, and she made a lamp with felted mushrooms.

“I’ve always been interested in shape and color,” Rosenstock said. “I like the three-dimensional element that felt has. It’s amazing if you look closely at nature and the world of shapes and patterns there are there.”


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