Julian Voss-Andreae is a German-born sculptor whose works are strongly influenced by science. Having started as a painter, he changed course in his early twenties and studied physics and quantum physics at the universities of Berlin, Edinburgh and Vienna. His recent commissions include a large-scale outdoor piece for the Scripps Research Institute in Florida and a sculpture for Nobel laureate Roderick MacKinnon at the Rockefeller University in New York City.
|Julian Voss-Andreae in his studio.
The idea of dualism was first conceived when ancient philosophers attempted to decipher human nature in terms of the relationship between the human body and mind. Through the centuries, it gained much wider usage, spreading to nearly all fields of knowledge— politics, religion, ethics, psychology, literature and science. It has become so wide-spread that often any opposition is seen as dualistic. This notion is arguable though, because oppositions are not always unsolvable. Sometimes, on second glance, opposites can overlap so much that it is difficult to view them as contraries. One such example is science and art— two seemingly different and uncooperative disciplines. However, if we think about Michelangelo, for example, the division between art and science fades. Julian Voss-Andreae also blurs this division. Sometimes when looking at his works, it becomes almost impossible to say where the art ends and the science begins and vice versa.
Voss-Andreae is a German-born sculptor whose works are strongly influenced by science. Having started as a painter, he changed course in his early twenties and studied physics and quantum physics at the universities of Berlin, Edinburgh and Vienna. He then moved to the United States (Portland, Ore.) where he decided to pursue his passion for art and graduated from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2004. His recent commissions include a large-scale outdoor piece for the Scripps Research Institute in Florida and a sculpture for Nobel laureate Roderick MacKinnon at the Rockefeller University in New York City. ASBMB Today caught up with Voss-Andreae and asked him about his work.
ASBMB: Your professional niche is so specific. How did you arrive at it?
Voss-Andreae: It does look specific from the outside. But for me it actually feels quite broad. It is similar to a scientist’s research interest: every outsider would think that this person is involved in a really tiny niche, but he or she feels it is a whole universe they are interested in. I am interested in many things and that resulted paradoxically in the specificity of my niche. But I don’t let this confine my work. If I make works that don’t fit into that niche, so be it.
|Steel Jellyfish (Green Fluorescent Protein), 2006. Stainless steel, height 55 inches (1.40 meters). Collection of the Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington.
ASBMB: What came first: fascination with art or with science?
Voss-Andreae: As a child there was no distinction for me between art and science. I loved building LEGO blocks. It is artlike in that it serves a decorative purpose and the imagination runs wild while building structures and then playing with them. But it is very scientific as well: I was always striving to create something that is satisfying in the same sense as a great engineering solution is satisfying or even elegant. Later I added electronics, chemistry and computer programming to my hobbies but did painting and pottery at the same time. I approached all those hobbies in a very sensual, kind of pleasure-driven way, not very systematic or intellectual.
ASBMB: Which scientific areas interest you the most?
Voss-Andreae: I love quantum physics. I love the mathematics used there and that it forces you to discover that our prejudices about the workings of the universe are largely false (as John Archibald Wheeler roughly puts it). It forces us to develop completely new intuitions. Most of classical physics is really beautiful, too. Areas such as electrodynamics or fluid dynamics reveal their beauty much more because we can solve the differential equations on computers now. In biology I am obviously interested in structural aspects of biochemistry and generally in organic structures. I am very interested in research that combines quantum physics with biology, for example work that looks at light emission and absorption in and between living cells. Such biophotons might be an important means of communication between cells or even between organisms. This research is associated with names like Fritz A. Popp, and it is currently moving slowly toward scientific mainstream. And I just came across some exciting work by a researcher in London, Mae-Wan Ho. Her research points at the possibility that living beings are in a state of quantum coherence, which I feel is really fitting to our experience of being alive.
ASBMB: What are you currently working on?
Voss-Andreae: I just finished writing a new paper about my protein sculptures, to be published in the art/science magazine Leonardo. Now I’ve started working on a larger, privately commissioned bronze piece. At the same time I am working on a project that has kept me busy for some years now. I am basically attempting to recreate the shape of a human body as a cellular network of foam bubbles, which I want to conform to the body’s shape. That latter part is really tricky, and I am currently developing a third approach after a purely experimental one (with balloons as bubbles in a human mold) and a purely computational approach (where I minimized the soap film area while enforcing the boundary conditions). Right now I am in the process of turning many gigabytes of data into what will hopefully eventually become a sculpture.
You can view more of Julian Voss-Andreae's art on his website.
ASBMB: Would you like to share your next plans?
Voss-Andreae: I am incorporating the human being more into my work, and I have plans to have a whole exhibition devoted to that idea. This interest has two aspects: On one side, I find myself referencing the human body more and more, and on the other side, I am interested in allowing more of the human complexity, the miraculous, non-conscious creative powers to enter into my work. In painting that happened automatically: I would get into a meditative, all-observing state of mind and the information flowing into my eyes would get transformed and flowed out of my hand to create a painting in an almost completely non-conscious way. Despite or maybe because of this non-conscious filtering, the arising image often had new and unexpected features, and at the same time a degree of meaning and coherence that I find astonishing. In sculpture, and especially in larger-scale pieces, this openness to that kind of creativity is very hard to achieve because of the need to plan ahead to conform to the many restrictions imposed by reality, such as rain or gravity, or technical feasibility.
Roza Selimyan (email@example.com) is a research scientist at the National Institute on Aging.