Artist Ginny Ruffner’s Poetic Hybrids exhibit makes concepts of genetic modification, augmented reality and sophisticated 3D modeling accessible enough for a child to enjoy it.
And many children did, during the opening of the exhibition at Seattle Art Museum (SAM) Thursday.
Visitors selected two loosely scientific words (like “patterned” or “giggling”), imagined what a “hybrid” of would look like, and created drawings based on the intersection of those concepts. Then they took their creations to a suite of artists behind computer monitors, who turned them into 3D models.
From there, the designs were beamed to tablets where kids could view them as augmented reality “sculptures” and add color.
Children weren’t the exhibit’s only visitors, but they did seem to approach the technology with the most wonder.
Ruffner was inspired by interviews she conducted with genetic research scientists during an artist residency in Huntsville, Alabama. When she returned to Seattle, she interviewed more scientists at the local Institute for Systems Biology.
“I wanted to make it highly imaginative so I developed a list of terms from my interviews with the scientists,” said Ruffner. “They’re all really ephemeral and non-corporeal and hopefully very evocative.”
The exhibit is meant to depict genetic hybridization (the process of producing offspring from two different breeds) as beautiful, rather than scary.
“In genetic modification, hybridization is the least scary method of gene modification and we’ve been doing that since the time of genesis, with really ancient technology,” said Ruffner. “So I wanted to use a technology that was not so threatening in genetic modification and also I wanted to make it highly imaginative.”
A team of artists, led by Ruffner’s top collaborator Grant Kirkpatrick, draw the 3D holograms and visitors can watch the creations as they unfold on 60-inch monitors in the exhibit. About once an hour, the little alien-like creations are sent to iPads nearby, where visitors can interact with them.
The SAM exhibit runs through Friday at 5 p.m.
It’s the first stop on the Poetic Hybrids tour, which will include Cornish College of the Arts, University of Washington’s Genetics Department, the Institute for Systems Biology, and Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology. More information about upcoming dates is available here.