Shell Meets Bone
Artist Residency 2017
In 2016/17 I was Artist in Residence at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, funded by The Leverhulme Trust.
I worked with biominerals specialist Professor Maggie Cusack, on an in-depth study of the nano-architecture of nacre (mother of pearl).
Professor Cusack’s ongoing research into biominerals and my own research for printmaking and drawing projects are concerned with the underlying patterns and structures of life, and how they fit together.
We worked on Professor Cusack’s research project: ‘Stem cell metabolomics for bone therapies and tissue engineering’, collaborating to investigate several aspects of our research interests which overlap.
Anthropologists exploring the lost civilisation of the Mayans discovered human skulls that had an almost full set of false teeth. Closer inspection showed that they were pieces of nacre (mother of pearl) fashioned into individual teeth that had been inserted into the jaw bone. Further analysis revealed that the jaw bone had accepted the shell implants and the bone had integrated with the shell. The shell was osteo-inductive - actively encouraging bone formation without rejecting the implant.
It’s intriguing that an invertebrate system (mollusc shell) enables bone formation in a vertebrate (human). Where does the connection lie? Unraveling this mystery is an important aspect of Professor Cusack’s project.
We began by looking at the topography of nacre - exploring its nanostructure with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). We explored these patterns and looked at computer models of nano-pits - another aspect of the research which involves an on going investigation into the relationships between chaos and order within grid patterns.
The balance between chaos and order in the rule-based patterns within my own artwork has always fascinated me, as best described by EH Gombrich in The Sense of Order:
‘However we analyse the difference between the regular and the irregular, we must ultimately be able to account for the most basic fact of aesthetic experience, the fact that delight lies somewhere between boredom and confusion. If monotony makes it difficult to attend, a surfeit of novelty will overload the system and cause us to give up’
Professor Cusack and I took this concept of chaos and order within aesthetic/topographical and biochemical patterning as a starting point and the project developed for there.