C’elegans: a Sculpted Reflection on Abstraction and the Notion of Progress in Science

In Winter 2018, Science & Justice Visiting Scholar Kim Hendrickx convened a meeting in the lab of Distinguished Professor of MCD Biology Susan Strome to discuss C. elegans, the elegant see-through worm that has long served as a model in developmental biology research.

Strome and lab members welcomed Hendrickx, Distinguished Professor Emerita Donna Haraway and Science & Justice Director Jenny Reardon along with the S&J community.

Invited art student, D (aka Daniel Lynch) created a physical response to the ‘Addressing Biology’ discussion in the form of a sculpture made from discarded laboratory rods, hardware and band saw blades. In their written statement, the student explained: “The UNC blade both suspends and is contained by the construction much like the way scientific dialogue can become bound by the knowledge it has already produced.” Hendrickx responded: “It is strange and exciting to see something very familiar in a new form.” The student, overseen by Dee Hibbert-Jones in the Art Department, was allowed to use this response piece as their final class project. All involved felt the excitement of such creative and engaged interactions between the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities.

j-UNC by D (aka Daniel Lynch)

Discarded Laboratory Rod & Hardware, Discarded Band-Saw Blades 

C’elegans is a nematode characterized by its S-shaped movement, and is studied as a model organism. Experimentation has caused a variety of mutations in individual worms. Remarkably some have developed neurons instead of reproductive germs. Others lose their characteristic movement, becoming uncoordinated. These are named “UNC” by researchers.

The worm is treated both as a subject and tool, whereas the blade transforms from tool to subject. The legible, linear detail of the teeth reflect the visible, linear nature of the worm’s internal biology. The blade that is held in examination by the construction is torqued into a curve that is evocative of the worm’s natural movement. In contrast, the heavier blade on the floor appears contorted, referencing the UNC.

The material used to build the construction gains new importance through form while retaining its identity and history as a support structure used in scientific experimentation. The construction’s, upward-stretching and outward-reaching form represents a methodic progression towards something, in abstraction of science. The UNC blade both suspends and is contained by the construction, much like the way scientific dialogue can become bound by the knowledge it has already produced.

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