Postgraduate Research &
Innovation Symposium (PRIS)

Science Inspired Art at PG Research Day

An exhibit of seven pieces of art based on postgraduate research at UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) was a feature of the College’s Postgraduate Research and Innovation Day which attracted more than 700 participants.

The exhibit – the brainchild of Professor Thomas Konrad – was the result of academics from CAES and the College of Humanities pioneering a collaboration between science students and colleagues from the Centre for Visual Arts (CVA) in Pietermaritzburg.

Konrad, a Physicist, believes that while arts and science are perceived as being at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, they can inform one another and result in more holistic science and better contemporary art.

Konrad and Dr Kathy Arbuckle of the CVA managed the two-month-long collaboration, which produce seven art works inspired by and expressing scientific projects.

The academics lauded the enthusiasm of participants, who despite time constraints, produced thought-provoking installations that proved to be a hit at the Research Day, attracting science students, industry exhibitors and academics.

A number of science students expressed interest in participating in the future, opening avenues for more interdisciplinary collaborations between UKZN’s Schools and Colleges.

Projects ranged in scope and medium. A prototype computer game, Labby’s Quest is based on research on the Labeobarbus natalensis, a freshwater fish whose behaviour provides important information about water resources.

Swarm Intelligence featured a digital simulation of the Particle Swarm Algorithm, a mathematical algorithm inspired by the social behaviour of birds flocking or fish schooling, while Virtual Design showed a completed ceramic artwork alongside a computer programme, modelling the artwork to demonstrate how science and art are both creative and can create a physical piece conceptualised in the virtual realm.

An installation of eels created from 100 plastic bottles retrieved from rivers inspired by the migratory Anguilla mossambica freshwater eel, provided an opportunity to interrupt the flow of plastic and turn trash into art. A ceramic installation showed the negative removal of copper in the body by the strong TB drug Ethambutol.

A prize-winning mixed media installation was an artistic interpretation of the body’s physical process of fighting invasive, disease-causing microbes. Colourful drawings showed the Anguilla Mossambica’s declining distribution in the Umgeni catchment, and an installation of waves using stroboscopic light suggested the possibility of turning back time.

Organisers say interdisciplinary collaborations that synthesise the arts and sciences have great potential to address some of the challenges of contemporary existence. Science can provide artists with new sources of inspiration, and art can challenge scientists to think creatively and understand the world holistically.

Project Teams:

  • Labby’s Quest – Simone Beneke, Shannon Bennetts and Kristoffer Modig based on Matthew Burnett’s research
  • Swarm Intelligence – Amy Rouillard and Shannon Bennetts based on Kelvin Mpofu’s research
  • Virtual Design – Amy Rouillard and Noxolo Ngidi
  • Eel Encounters of the Plastic Kind – Penny Forder, based on Céline Hanzen and Matthew Burnett’s research
  • Ethambutol as a TB Drug – Ayom Eric Gwaza and Sphelele Nzimande
  • Siege Under the Cover of Skin – Paul Awolade, Caroline Birch and Sphelele Nzimande
  • Anguilla Mossambica Inkanyamba – Eloff Pretorius based on Céline Hanzen’s research
  • Time Machine – Perfect Privilege Chifoto and Thomas Konrad.

Words and Photograph: Christine Cuénod