The Art of AIDS
BY Benjamin Ryan
November 18 2010 5:00 AM ET
Perhaps best known stateside for Play Me, I’m Yours—an installation of pianos on city streets and in public buildings across the globe “for the public to enjoy,” including 60 placed throughout all five boroughs of New York this year—British artist Luke Jerram is all about sculptures, installations, and live art projects that he hopes excite and inspire people, that he says “explore the edge of perception.” And that’s precisely the motivation behind his creation of transparent glass sculptures of microbes that are having a major effect on our planet, including an HIV cell (above). Jerram believes there’s a need to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial coloring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena.
The question of pseudocoloring in biomedicine, he says, and its use for communicating science is a vast and complex subject. “If some images are colored for scientific purposes,” he asks, “and others are altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly colored? Are there any color conventions, and what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudocoloured images have that ‘naturally’ colored specimens don’t? How does the choice of different colours affect their reception?”
Working with virologists from the University of Bristol, Jerram used a combination of scientific microscopic photos and models to create his works—including swine flu, smallpox, and SARS viruses as well as an untitled future mutation—and now images of Jerram’s color-free art are being distributed as alternative representations of each virus.