Flowers in Full Zoom
Bioscience Building’s Art Exhibit Showcases Micrographs
For artist Rob Kesseler, it’s not enough to stop and smell the roses. He has to take the roses to a lab, put them under an electron microscope and photograph their cells.
“Worlds Within,” an exhibit on display through December in the University of Maryland’s Bioscience Research Building, showcases Kesseler’s micrographs—photographs taken through a microscope—of plant and insect cells, fibers and particles, magnified by as much as 3,000 times.
“My role as an artist is to reveal the living world—things you can’t see with a naked eye—and to use contemporary science to do that,” says Kesseler, a professor at Central Saint Martins and chair of Arts, Design & Science at University of the Arts, London. “The images are familiar to scientists, but they’re slightly different.”
Kesseler, who started making slides of pollen at age 10 but focused his education on art, studied microscopy at Kew Gardens in England and in the lab of Jose Feijo, then working in Portugal but now a professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at umd. Feijo brought the exhibit to Maryland out of a desire to bridge science and art, and have those who walk through the building “feel inspired instead of seeing blank walls,” he says.
In the ethereal, otherworldly photographs, green, purple or yellow lines and circles seem to float against black backgrounds, as if in outer space. Some micrographs are more recognizable; in one, a wasp—rendered in deep blue with lavender wings—hovers over a bisected fig, poised to pollinate the fruit.
The images start out black and white, but Kesseler adds color “to draw out structural characteristics and also what I feel is the character of each individual specimen,” he says. He compares his use of color to a plant’s own: A flower’s vibrant hues draw in pollinators, while Kesseler injects color “to attract a different audience—a human audience.”