Romantic Objectivism: Recontextualising diagrams from the life sciences in a contemporary fine art context.

Michael Whittle

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


This paper presents examples from my own artistic practice that I developed from life science images and re-presented in a fine art context. First, Perpetual Motion took as its theme two alternative understandings of movement through the lens of contemporary biology. I adapted human DNA Haplogroup maps to create a largescale mobile sculpture of global female genetic variation.

The sculpture was suspended above a custom-made carpet, the design of which incorporated the distinctive triangular firing patterns of grid cells in the human entorhinal cortex. In this way, the symbolic markings on the carpet mirror the neuronal processes in the brains of the people moving across it. By putting these two very different notions of movement and location together, Perpetual Motion suggests an alternative poetics of space and place, and provides a scientific snapshot of our endless wanderings as human individuals and as a species as a whole.

Second, I desiged a set of fictional blueprints and models for a fictional Martian colony, developed from atomic resolution diagrams of the secondary structure of the human Large Ribosomal Subunit (LSU). These ancient biomolecules are fundamental to all extant life, making its diagrammatic adaptation for a proposed extraterrestrial colony a highly symbolic, poetic gesture that connotes the spread of earth-based organic life out into the solar system.

I call this approach Romantic Objectivism, as both a way to describe the adaption of objective visual imagery for artistic and poetic expression, and to reference the historical cultural divide between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Rather than promoting the work of specific research groups, or simply acting as tools for science communication, these art projects aim instead to reflect upon the nature of visual representations in science, and what happens when we remove the objective restraints which are placed upon them.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2021
EventConsortium of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine: The Circulation of Images in the Life Sciences - Online
Duration: 16 Oct 202123 Oct 2021


ConferenceConsortium of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Abbreviated titleCHSTM
Internet address

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Evolution
  • Art
  • Biology
  • Diagrams
  • Diagrammatology


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