BioArt : Julian Voss-Andreae Materialises Molecules through Metal Sculpture

bioart biomolecule antibody medicine sculpture protein art julian voss andreae

Last week we also looked at molecular sculpture, but with the medium of Glass. Now we turn to metal work and the challenges of scaling up molecular design work with the German BioArtist Julian Voss-Andreae.

Julian was originally a quantum physicist from Germany who studied in Berlin, Edinburgh and then Vienna before returning to the artist path – in which he blended the two (very distinct) disciplines.

Having worked with buckminsterfullerenes (‘Bucky Balls‘), chemical spheres composed entirely of carbon, he began to explore sculpture after studying it in the US at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2004. He first experimented by introducing certain cuts into simple pieces of lumber, which could then allow his to reassemble the pieces to produce a different structural forms.

Julian’s ‘Bucky Balls’ (Credit: Julian Voss-Andreae)

Applying this simple ‘false-jigsaw’ approach to biochemical molecules, he developed the process for proteins – which naturally became more complicated than he (as a physicist) had anticipated…

Julian therefore asked a Neuroscientist from the US (aka his future wife) what proteins in Biology he should explore from a structural point of view, and she recommended GFP – the ‘Green Fluorescent Protein’ (2004).

The gfp gene is is often obtained from Cnidarians (jelly fish) to make other organisms glow, which is what US artist Eduardo Kac did to breed a fluorescent green rabbit.

Other simple molecule protein works include ‘The Building Blocks of Life’ – i.e. the Blue mating pheromone (2009), and Viral Capsomer (2003).

Left: ‘Green Fluorescent Protein’, Middle: ‘Blue Mating Pheromone’ (2009), and Right: ‘Viral Capsomer’ (Credit: Julian Voss-Andreae)

As his interest and speciality in protein sculpture started to take of, other shapes and designs he looked to take on included Alpha helices (often seen in simple sugars, and of course – DNA) and other linear molecules like Collagen.

And with his developing welding skills and laser cutting – his precision and reputation meant he was able to secure commissioned projects.

Synergy (2013) is a sculpture for the Center for Integrative Proteomics Research at Rutgers University (New Jersey) which is based on the structure of the collagen molecule. The molecule is based on 3 strands which intertwine to become a meta-helix, and this structure gives it the tensile strength needed to produce the tough (yet flexible) characteristics for hair, skin and connective tissue.

The creation of Synergy, a sculpture resembling the molecular structure of collagen. (Credit: Julian Voss-Andreae)

However one of his most famous commissioned pieces was for the Scripps Institute in Florida. Using x-ray crystallography data to model his design, Julian superimposed an antibody CAD file onto Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, which he found worked really well – the perfection of the antibody!

The piece, The Angel of the West (2008) took around a year to complete using laser cutting tools, a considerable feat given the ring is roughly 3.7m diameter (12ft).

At the Scripps Institute (Credit: Julian Voss-Andreae)

Birth of an Idea‘ (2007) was commissioned by Roderick MacKinnon, a Nobel Prize winner who discovered the mechanism behind the potassium channel protein. The piece helped improve Julian’s understanding of how ion channels work, which is an essential mechanism behind pharmacokinetics in Medicine.

Then there is DePauw University (Greencastle, IN) science building where they suspend a series of 4 pieces by Julian called the Villin Headpiece Folding (2011).

Left: Birth of an Idea’. Right: ‘Villin Headpiece Folding’ at the DePauw University Science Building (Credit: Julian Voss-Andreae)

The suspended sculptures are based on frames of a protein folding simulation by Klaus Schulten’s research group (although the Biochemistry teacher in the project technically chose the colours, contrary to what Julian preferred). However, it was a great success a piece of science (and art) student engagement.

It’s interesting to see Julian’s work develop overtime (in complexity and popularity) and great to see a medium of BioArt which reaches so many.

A Photography project with Julian Voss-Andreae on his work, person and bringing Science-Sculpture to the US….

Julian Voss-Andreae: Blending Worlds from Dan Sadowsky on Vimeo.

Feature Image Credit: A mixture of Julians works to include (left to Right) ‘Birth of an Idea’ 2009, and (Right top and bottom) ‘Synergy’ in the making and close-up, 2013. ‘Samantha’ the new glass woman is also featured.


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