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October 13, 2011 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2011-10-13

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

4B - Thursday, October 13, 2011


Art under the microscope


looks at aesthetics
of microbes
Daily Arts Writer
The image - a blue backdrop
with swirls of yellow, clusters
of red dots and a certain dis-
cernible texture - could easily
be attributed as a post-Impres-
sionist oil painting. Its title is
"Van Gogh's Skin," alluding to
the close resemblance in col-
ors and pattern with the Dutch
master's famous "Starry Night."
However, the nuanced hues and
seemingly intricate design belie
the picture's true nature - that
wavy red band at the top is actu-
ally the skin surface of a mouse,
and those red dots are stained
tumor cells.
The image is a sample of bas-
al-cell carcinoma, the most com-
mon type of skin cancer found in
humans and a valuable affliction
to study through the use of ani-
mal research at the University's
Center for Organogenesis.
And "Van Gogh's Skin" is an
example of bioartography, which
presents one of the few oppor-
tunities for typically unrelated
fields - in this case biology, pho-
tography, and art - to be amal-
gamated. Such a coalition opens
up the chance to tap into a vast
endless subject matter: nature.
None should know this bet-
ter than Brad Smith, the associ-
ate dean for creative work at the
School of Art & Design, and a
professor who previously direct-
ed a program in biomedical illus-
"What nature presents to
us, and what we discover and

find and unearth in nature, is
very visually rich, and opens up
many intriguing questions just
by looking at it and seeing it,"
Smith said.
The idea of bioartography was
conceived six years ago as an
answer to a completely different
problem: restrictions on trav-
el money for student training
grants. Strapped for extra fund-
ing, Deborah Gumucio, a pro-
fessor in the Medical School's
department of cell and devel-
opmental biology, and her col-
leagues realized that the answer
was all around them.
"We thought, 'Well, what've
we got that we can raise money
with?' " Gumucio said. "And we
realized that our images were
really gorgeous and that a lot of
them were artistic and had a lot
of artistic appeal."
The work also represents a
different side of the art umbrel-
la. Unlike pastorals or scenic
views, the pieces are a direct
result of natural elements, rath-
er than a simple inspiration from
the subject.
"Art can sometimes be inor-
ganic, but the art of a butterfly,
or the art of a flower, or a person
- any of that visual art is organ-
ic," Gumucio said. "And this is
just going deeper with it - this
is just beginning to look at the
structure not only of a tissue, but
going deeper to look at the struc-
ture of the cells."
The images are a by-product
of research in organogenesis, but
still have value after their scien-
tific purpose has been fulfilled.
However, the photos are never
done solely for the sake of art.
Nicole Evans, a graduate stu-
dent in the Medical School's
cell and developmental biol-
ogy department and a two-time

recipient of the travel grant,
gave insight into the process of
"We never stain something
with seven colors to take a bio-
artography picture," she said.
"We're taking pictures for our
research to better understand
organogenesis and development
in general, and we happen to
come across something cool. It's
never forced."
The actual method of prepar-
ing the tissues for photography
varies depending on whether
the specimen is animal (which
is transparent and needs to be
dyed) or plant (which has its
own natural pigment). For the
cells that need to be stained,
a liquid is added that contains
either chemical agents or anti-
bodies. These agents or antibod-
ies bind to the cells, infusing
them with color.
"Our favorite colors in this
context are blue, red and green,"
Gumucio said, describing the
analysis for research purposes.
"The microscopes are able to
shine just the right wavelength
of light to fluoresce the dyes."
Once a photo is taken, it may go
through a range of manipulation
effects, including color inversion
or addition. The "Van Gogh's
Skin" piece is a prime example:
The yellow streaks that create
the effect of a nighttime sky were
added to the image of basal-cell
carcinoma after the picture was
taken. Such alterations are com-
pletely aesthetic, and act only to
enhance the natural beauty that
is already present.
Once the photos have been
submitted and selected as can-
didates for being exhibited, they
are compiled into a book and
sent to various art authorities for
further consultation and selec-

tion. Smith has been a yearly fix-
ture in the process.
"If it captures my imagina-
tion, then I give ita higher rank-
ing," Smith said. "And what
focuses my imagination, for me,
is that it's got to have something
very visually interesting. There's
something about composition,
pattern, color, texture - the
form itself."
Once the year's collection has
been selected, the images are
put online, where they can be
bought as prints. However, the
most important medium for the
artwork is the Ann Arbor Art
Fairs, where the bioartography
booth is staffed with faculty and
medical students who work with
the images regularly.
"To the public ... it makes
them feel like they have a con-
nection to the science that might
be something they don't neces-
sarily understand," Evans said
of working atthe booth. "Itgives
them a connection to what we do
And though the University
of Michigan is the only univer-
sity to have a specific bioartog-
raphy program, the practice of
microscopic photo art is receiv-
ing worldwide attention. Nikon
holds an annual "Small World"
contest, in which organisms,
minerals and other materials are
blown up and entered into a com-
petition - in the 2011 contest, the
top prize was for the expanded
image of an insect larva's head.
Popular Science magazine has
also been known to frequently
publish microscopic images.
These venues, along with the
University's bioartography pro-
gram, reveal the art within an
arm's length - all one has to do
is look a little bit closer.



Buster Keaton's nickname was The Great Stone Face.
The epitoCmeyof
slap,"sti~ck comedy


Daily Arts Writer
In our time, so far removed
from the early days of cinema,
silent films are considered
obscure, art-house curios to be
enjoyed by serious connoisseurs.
Film aesthetics have changed so
much that the films made dur-
ing cinema's infancy may now
seem inaccessible for the average
moviegoer. But in the late teens
and early '20s of the last century,
when film was still a nascent art
form, it was entertainment for
the masses.
The period's reigning genre,
the slapstick comedy - the best of
which today are revered as high
art - were originally enjoyed by
every average Joe with a spare
nickel. One of the masters of
this early film genre was Buster
Of the great slapstick comedi-
ans, Buster Keaton was the fun-
niest. Whereas many films of the
time tended toward sentimental-
ity, Keaton's films were purely
and unrelentingly funny. Today,
Keaton is remembered most for
his amazing stunts, which he
performed himself - he even
sometimes did other actors'
stunts if they were too dangerous
- but he was also one of the best
directors of the silent era. And in
"Sherlock Jr.," arguably his best
film, Keaton is at the top of his
"Sherlock Jr." stars Keaton as
a film projectionist who aspires
to be a great detective. The first
scene shows him sitting in the
back of the empty theater read-
ing a book called "How to be a
Detective." As in all his mov-
ies, Keaton is a hapless, ingenu-
ous but resourceful young man
with high ideals and unflappable
determination. In this film, the
object of that determination (as
in nearly every slapstick comedy)
is a beautiful ingenue, cleverly
called The Girl.
But just when Keaton's court-
ing of The Girl is starting to go
well, it all goes beautifully and
hilariously wrong. When a com-
peting courter (Ward Crane)
frames Keaton for stealing The
Girl's father's watch, the aspiring
detective decides to put his bud-
ding skills to the test.
The real fun begins when
Keaton falls asleep in his projec-
tion booth and dreams himself
into the film he is projecting. In
this dream movie, which shares
the plot and characters of his

real-life conundrum but in a
high-society setting, he is the
suave, titular Sherlock Jr., "the
best detective in the world."
In the raised stakes of the
dream movie, Keaton must solve
the crime and win The Girl,
among a melee of hulking hench-
men, high-speed car chases,
incredible death-defying stunts
and head-turningtricks.
More than anything, "Sher-
lock Jr." is a funny paragon of
slapstick comedy. The film is sat-
urated with gags, each one more
hilarious than the last. Every
second is funny, which speaks
to Keaton's ability as both a film-
maker and performer. Keaton's
nickname was The Great Stone
Face, because whatever befell
him, he always retained his
bemused expression. He relied
on nuance, transforming the
smallest gestures into brilliant
A film, within a
film, within
a film.
But "Sherlock Jr." transcends
broad comedy. Back in 1924,
Buster Keaton was already chal-
lenging the conventions of film.
One of the best and funniest
comedies of all time, the film also
grapples with questions about
the nature of cinema - half of the
action takes place in asfilm within
the film within a dream, and this
was 86 years before "Inception."
By all accounts, "Sherlock Jr."
is way ahead of its time. It con-
tains ground-breaking special
effects: In one scene, after leav-
ing his sleeping body, Buster
walks into the film he is project-
ing - which is something Woody
Allen did 60 years later in "Pur-
ple Rose of Cairo." And Keaton's
intricately choreographed stunts,
done with the crude technology
of the time, were unparalleled
before and have been since.
Silent films represent some of
thegreatest works of cinema, and
are regretfully neglected by most
filmgoers today. These films are
not inaccessible, nor incompre-
hensible. They're fun and enter-
taining. "Sherlock Jr." is not only
one of the best of these, but also
a great gateway into that legend-
ary silent filmgenre, the slapstick
c AT f'TA~r

"Van Gogh's Skin" is actually made up oftthe epithelial cells of a mouse carci-
noma and are stained with antibodies.

The images chosen for bio-artography are stained with color for the purposes of
science, not for aesthetics.

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