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Finding common ground between biology and art

The creative side of science has always interested artist Marisa Satsia. From a young age she was fascinated by how it was visually communicated, particularly the anatomical and scientific sculptures and illustrations. Not what comes to mind for most people when they think of science but for Marisa, it was captivating.

“I was the crazy person studying chemistry, biology and art,” she laughs. And it’s precisely those subjects that turned her into the mixed media contemporary artist she is today, creating collagraph prints and plates, linocut prints, digital drawing, physical wax and 3D models, ceramic sculptures and embroidery.

It has taken several years and a very specific academic approach to get to where Marisa is today. Her studies began with Fine Art, though by her final year she was working closely with scientists and university labs to experiment with microscopes and other visualisation techniques. This paved the way for an MSc in Medical Art.

“During my masters, I had the opportunity to master my observational drawing, learn human anatomy from cadavers and other preserved specimens, attend surgeries and study medico-legal ethics,” explained Marisa. “Studying human anatomy and histology through such a hands-on experience while making 3D and physical models and digital and physical illustrations of complex anatomical concepts has had a positive impact on my professional development as a multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary artist.”

Now her work conveys a strong sense of presenting an alternative perspective of the self through the use of biological and scientific elements. It is not just scientists and artists who have the need to visualise and understand the natural world through all sorts of artistic or visual media, she said.

“I think what drew me to specialise in this subject was the urge and desire to investigate the invisible so I can understand the visible, to understand myself and other humans. The more you scrutinise, the more you can understand.”

Yet merging science and art isn’t all that new according to Marisa, in fact, they have a lot more in common than people think. Curiosity, trial and error and the urge to know oneself are some of the common traits, she explained. They also share a common history, especially when it comes to human anatomy.

“Back in the Renaissance, when the journey into discovering human nature and natural phenomena began, artists were multifaceted individuals. Some of the subjects they studied included physics, mathematics, botany and anatomy. The more they knew, the better they could explain and understand the workings of the cosmos, human nature and the inner workings of the bodies through their artwork. The tag Know thyself, was the driving force behind this exploration and the excuse to scrutinise the cosmos.”

And it goes beyond that. Marisa described how in the 16th century there were no tissue preservation methods, therefore the only way to document the human body was through drawings, in a way, already introducing an artistic element into science although unwittingly so.

“In 1510 Leonardo Da Vinci starts dissecting human bodies and documents his findings by drawing. The first published anatomical atlas of Vesalius and the exploration of the human body wouldn’t have been possible without the drawing skills of an artist back then,” Marisa said.

It seems that a creative element always existed within science and surely we can all think back to those drawings and illustrations in our high school science books. Considering how they got there or why was a thought that hadn’t previously crossed my mind.

Creating a detailed embroidery of the brain, ceramics of deconstructed facial muscles and thorough prints of the human anatomy are Marisa’s ways of demystifying the human body and making the invisible visible, making what we can’t see appear and taking a scientific approach to art.

“Other people will feel uncomfortable knowing this is what I’m into, other people are fascinated and confess that they have learned a lot about themselves and human nature through my artwork,” commented Marisa.

Yet creating art pieces and exhibiting them isn’t the only way this artist stays busy. Another big part of her work is to collaborate with scientists and anatomists to create educational material. It’s where her Medical Art studies come into play, showing its wide range of applications.

From creating educational material for a digital publication to designing teaching aids for a complex anatomical concept to communicating complex scientific research to the general public, the list goes on.

Currently, besides working on projects at her studio Med Art Cabinet, Marisa is creating an online course in collaboration with the School of Machines, Making and Make-Believe in Berlin, about the human body, visual art and technology.

The relationship between science and art has a much bigger audience than most people realise, Marissa explained. In fact, every day she discovers at least three new artists on Instagram that are either medical illustrators and artists, contemporary visual artists that use medical technologies or their work has a biological/anatomical scientific element.

There is a large international community of artists and designers working on the subject, making work with viruses, instead of about viruses, using f-MRI data and embroidery to create self-portraits as well as professional medical artists that work closely with scientists for educational purposes.

“I am inspired by the symbiotic nature of scientists and visual artists and the use of scientific technologies and visualisation techniques that allow us to magnify and observe the inner bodily landscapes and read between the lines,” she said and indeed, it seems that as technology develops, the worlds of science and art will come even closer.


Find Marisa’s work on Facebook at @Marisa Satsia Fine Artist and on Instagram @medartcabinet



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