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‘Syndemic Sublime’ art exhibition uses pandemic lens to examine what it means to be human in an entangled world

Laura Splan 2022 Syndemic Sublime

(Posted on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022)

Laura Splan

Laura Splan – a transdisciplinary artist working at the intersections of science, technology and culture – has brought another biomedical research-driven project to Austin Peay State University, this one focused on the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Splan’s “Syndemic Sublime,” an ongoing series of data-driven computer-generated animations, is this month’s featured exhibition in <terminal>, a space in the Art + Design building at Austin Peay’s Clarksville campus that showcases new media art.

The exhibition is available to the public from Sept. 12-30 during the Art + Design building’s regular hours, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

“For this show, Splan created computer animations that start with a molecular visualization of SARS-CoV-2 that is then animated based on death statistics from the first 20 months of the pandemic,” said Barry Jones, professor of art in APSU’s Department of Art + Design.

The resulting disruptions create “mesmerizing tableaus that are sometimes spastic and sometimes sublime,” according to Splan’s description of the work. “Each animation has a unique starting and ending form as it slowly morphs from its biological folded form or ‘conformation’ to its technologically distorted form.”

The process “allows for unpredictable and unique transformations within each animation,” and the unraveling and collision of proteins cause “jarring glitches” along with “soothing movements.”

The animations combine models of proteins from the coronavirus with those of llamas, alpacas, cats, dogs, pangolins, bats and humans.

Syndemic Sublime” is an examination of “our increasing interspecies entanglements in the contemporary biotechnological landscape,” according to Splan’s description. “From zoonotic diseases to transgenic vaccine development, our understanding of what it means to be ‘human’ in the ‘natural world’ is becoming increasingly complex.”

Splan and her work have visited Austin Peay twice before. The New Gallery hosted her “Entangled Entities” in early 2021, and she spoke at the university in 2015 as part of the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts (CECA) Visiting Artist Speaker Series.

“She frames complex biomedical issues with provocations of curiosity and wonder – revealing beauty amongst chaos and resilience amidst crisis,” said Michael Dickins, The New Gallery’s curator and director, last year. “With her work, Splan choreographs poetic confrontations with science inside the gallery to foster deeper engagement with science outside the gallery.”

<terminal> is sponsored by the Department of Art + Design and CECA. Jones and Professor McLean Fahnestock direct and maintain the space.

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