Alternative format session at The International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, Oslo

‘Representing Protein Dynamics’

ISHPSSB Oslo 7–12 July 2019
John Dupré, Gemma Anderson and JJ Phillips

This session derives from our AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK) funded project, ‘Representing Biology as Process’ (, which, in turn, grew out of John Dupré’s ERC-funded project, A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology. The latter project developed the argument that Biological Systems of all kinds should be understood as processes rather than substances or things. This raised questions about the best ways of visually representing biological systems without occluding their dynamic nature.

Core members of the interdisciplinary team are Dupré, artist Gemma Anderson, and cell biologist James Wakefield, and the team will address problems of representation across a range of biological scales. Anderson has been collaborating with a diverse range of scientists for several years, and following pioneering work by artists such as Paul Klee, she has had a longstanding interest in representing transformation through two-dimensional images. The first, largely completed, target of the present project was mitosis, especially the energetic body of spindle formation. Anderson and Wakefield collaborated in generating a series of entirely novel images of mitosis, and the team continues to work on exploring the meaning and utility of these images.

The current phase of the project addresses protein dynamics, especially the energy landscape associated with protein folding, and Anderson is collaborating on this with protein biophysicist Jonathan Phillips. The conventional image for representing protein dynamics in biology is the ‘Folding funnel’, an irregular, broadly conical shape that corresponds to an energy landscape down which the protein is imagined to flow as its structure achieves lower energy formations. While this image represents some features well, others are obscured.

The proposed presentation at ISHPSSB, Oslo will describe the methods of interdisciplinary collaboration and the objectives of the project, and then present the images developed for protein folding and some discussion of their significance. As with the mitosis project, a number of novel modes of representation are being explored. We will present a series of new images that function as visual metaphor for the protein energy landscape – as process – based on a maze structure, and experiment with the maze as a metaphor for process beyond proteins, such as mitosis and speciation. Anderson, Phillips and Dupré will jointly present this work, providing scientific, art-theoretic and philosophical perspectives on the project and its results.

Research Visit to European Molecular Biology Laboratory

04/03/19- 08/02/19

Research Visit to European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany

I will visit the Leptin Lab at EMBL with Historian of Science Janina Wellmann for one week to study cell formations in gastrulation (early embryogenesis) with specific focus on drawing and movement as modes of enquiry.

Art/Science Interest Group (ASIG), Natural History Museum

15th November, 2018 

Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, Natural History Museum, London

Speakers: Dr Chiara Ambrosio (UCL) and artist’s Caroline Ward and Michiko Nitta present their work followed by group discussion.

*Founded in 2016 by Artist Gemma Anderson and NHM Scientist Gavin Broad, the Art and Science Interest Group (ASIG) at the Natural History Museum is a bi-monthly forum that fosters a community of Scientists and Artists who are interested in the field of ‘Art/Science’. ASIG provides a programme of Invited speakers at each meeting, who share practice and ideas and excite new conversations in the group.

‘Molecules of life: Exploring Proteins through drawing, movement and origami’ – Art/Science/Philosophy Workshop at the Eden Project, Cornwall

28th May 2018

Artist Gemma Anderson, Philosopher John Dupré and Scientist Johnathan Phillips from the University of Exeter, bring an experimental and multi-modal art/science/philosophy workshop ‘Molecules of Life: Exploring Proteins through drawing, movement and origami’ as part of  the Eden Project’s Invisible Worlds Launch Week. Please note that you must pre-book a place for the workshop on the afternoon of Monday 28 May. This workshop is part of a packed timetable of science-themed talks and workshop in the Eden Projects brand-new ‘Lab’.

Details of how to book will be added to this page soon.

Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP): Representing Biology as Process

Conference Presentation at the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice: ‘Representing Biology as Process (+Re-presenting Process)’ Alternative format session.

29 June – 2 July 2018
University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium


This session developed out of our interdisciplinary project involving an artist (Gemma Anderson), a cell biologist (James Wakefield) and a philosopher (John Dupré). The overall goal of the project is to develop better ways of representing biological processes. It also continues earlier work by Anderson (2017) on drawing as a way of knowing. As Wakefield will argue, the decline of drawing as a practice in biological research has had deleterious consequences for some aspects of biological research.

In the first stages of the project, Anderson and Wakefield have worked together to produce images of mitosis, the process that is the central research topic of the Wakefield lab. The aim was to produce a two-dimensional image that somehow represented the full sequence of transitions involved in mitosis. A method was developed that translated Wakefield’s understanding of mitosis into an image in which the vertical dimension represented time, and a number of features (colour, thickness of line, distance from the centre, etc.) represented crucial aspects of the mitotic process. A number of different images have been generated, representing different organisms with differences in their processes of mitosis. The process of producing these images and its rationale will be presented in fuller detail during the session.

The outcome of this activity has been a series of images, which we refer to—for reasons that will be obvious on seeing them—as mitosis pots. These are, perhaps needless to say, very different from familiar textbook depictions of mitosis. The causal connection between features of mitosis and features of the mitosis pots gives us confidence that the images could be used to represent common features and specific differences in mitosis, though it is also clear that such use would require a degree of training. We shall discuss the costs and benefits of introducing such images into the practice and teaching of biology. Preliminary exploration of this question has involved soliciting reactions from other scientists.

We feel that a standard format of three 30 minute presentation representing distinct disciplinary perspectives would not do justice to the interdisciplinary nature of the project. Instead, we propose three brief introductions to aspects of the project by each of the participants, followed by more detailed presentations of the first completed sub-project, which is collaborative work by Anderson and Wakefield. We will allow some time for discussion at the conclusion of each part of the session. Dupréewill also chair a concluding 15 minute discussion session.

Modular Exhibition Structure at the Royal Institution, London

Process Biology: Final Conference of the ERC Project ‘A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology’
The Royal Institution, London, 21-23/04/18

In response to the need for a format to show the transdisciplinary research project ‘Representing Biology as Process’ beyond the art-space, this is the first experiment with a flexible and mobile modular structure for exhibiting work in academic and scientific spaces. The structure has been inspired by the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) exhibition ‘On Growth and Form’ (1951), especially Richard Hamilton’s experiments with ‘plane-by-plane’ constructions organised around a modular hanging system with the intention to give viewers an opportunity to generate their own image relations in space.


Gallery Talk at Faulconer Gallery: ‘Representing Biology as Process’

Gallery Talk: Gemma Anderson, Representing Biology as Process’

Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College, Iowa, US

April 12, 4 p.m.

‘Artist in residence Gemma Anderson will introduce her work at Grinnell in the context of the current collaboration with biologist James Wakefield and philosopher of biology John Dupré on the Arts and Humanities Research Council project Representing Biology as Process  (2017-2020). Dr. Anderson has collaborated on a number of innovative art/science projects including Hidden Geometries with the Mathematics Department at Imperial College London; Isomorphology with the Natural History Museum, London; and Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists (Wellcome Trust Arts Award 2009) in collaboration with psychiatrists and patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital. Co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Engagement and the Biology Department’.