On Using Art to Explain Science: 2019 Resident Artist Amanda Vaughn
Amanda Vaughn is a DJ and visual artist in #BBATX’s 2019 Residency. In this interview, she talks making room for experiments, starting projects and her ideal meeting of the minds.
This interview has been condensed from a conversation with #BBATX board member and committee member Xochi Solis.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
As a zine-maker, DJ, and visual artist, Amanda Vaughn creates interdisciplinary and experimental work through the lens of a scientist. In her paintings she uses a robust palette to depict a world viewable only by microscope in mural-sized portraits of proteins and fantastical cellscapes. Vaughn has created nine volumes of BEARCAT, a zine which combines collage, scientific literature, and humor with a picture book aesthetic. Both performance and radio-based, Amanda’s DJ sets collage and mix vinyl from different eras, genres, and continents to create novel sonic environments. Keep up with Amanda’s mixes on Soundcloud and follow her on Instagram.
Tell us about your work and practice:
I moved to Austin in 2012 to begin work on my PhD at the University of Texas, and find it to be the perfect environment for those that want a good balance of work and play. I can hole up for three weeks working on experiments in lab, and then step into the brilliant Austin sunshine and go swimming or play music with friends. I’ve learned that I can’t be successful in the sciences without taking time to assimilate concepts through making art. Austin offers a vast range of venues to explore and share art in a community, which I have taken full advantage of in an attempt to balance out the isolating nature of doing research.
As an academic and social person by nature, I thrive on engagement with others. I like sharing ideas and sounds out of context, and encouraging people to make new connections between the subject and their personal experience. When I paint portraits of proteins a billion times larger than their actual size in nature, I want to portray that these nanoscopic and intricate particles of matter are larger than life, as they provide us with life. The most important part of that process is the connection that others can make with these images—the “aha" moment that inspires a new perspective on the particles that give us life. I use the same approach when I spin records; I want fringe artists from diverse eras, regions, and practices to be celebrated together. To connect with others throughout this process makes it all worthwhile and gives it meaning.
How does the urge to start a project begin? How and when does it end?
I work best with specific instructions and a deadline—I suppose I am an eternal student after spending seven years in Biochemistry grad school. I'll begin work on a project for specific shows or performances, and binge work on it until I come up with something that excites me. I keep a long list of project ideas for inspiration, but in order to feel completely motivated to work, I like to maintain focus on the context in which the work can be shared. If I have been studying a new protein in my research, I like to document that work by painting a portrait of it. Each project takes a different amount of time, but I’ve been known to cram and get things done quickly if need be. A mural I painted in 2009 took three months, but I’ve also pumped out a fresh zine the night before a zine festival. My large scale protein portraits are visceral and impulsive, which is intentional, and usually take about two days from start to finish.
Tell us something about yourself that many people might not know lies behind your creative passions.
Art is an amazing educational vehicle for esoteric subjects such as the sciences, and I use my art projects in science lectures I give to the community. I have given a couple talks at the Thinkery during community night and also recently completed an outreach teaching residency in an elementary school. Explaining complex and abstract concepts via art gives students an opportunity to make personal connections with scientific ideas, and in turn, understand them better. Inundating people with dense textbooks and nomenclature only makes them feel more removed from scientific theory, and therefore resentful and avoidant of it. One of my career goals is to design and teach a course on Science for Artists (or anyone passionate about both, for that matter).
What is your ideal gathering or meeting of the minds?
In full Renaissance fashion, I dream of a forum-like setting where art, music, science, and film are all active topics of discussion, and there is no need to be an expert in any of these fields in order to engage and participate. Science is something discussed interchangeably with the arts, and the open nature of these discussions only fuel further creativity and wonder. Without those interdisciplinary elements, we are reduced to computers that memorize facts and lack passion and curiosity.
FACES + PLACES MOST INFLUENTIAL TO AMANDA:
Gainesville, Madrid, Taipei, Bermuda, Sciacca, Halifax, Osaka
Joan Mitchell, Yayoi Kusama, Sophia Loren, Françoise Hardy, Elizabeth Fraser, Jane Richardson (biophysicist), Agnes Varda, Betty Davis, Isabelle Adjani
WHAT SHE’S BEEN LISTENING TO RECENTLY:
morio agata - morio agata flexi
saint etienne - avenue
eggplant - for you (i’d build a church)
mina - tintarella di luna
cranes - fracture
red sleeping beauty - cinema
the ecstasy of saint theresa - what’s
gaze - turquoise
orange cake mix - don’t let tomorrow get in your way
california☆roma - tarot garden
ata kak - daa nyinaa
the wake - crush the flowers
cassandra - thank you for the many things you’ve done
About #bbatx's The Residency: We annually work with 10 to 15, Texas-based women-identifying and nonbinary visual and musical artists to produce site-specific work, commissions and exhibitions throughout our programming and events. Through these residencies, we invite the public to learn more about their process, approach and sustainability of their practice. Click here to meet this year's artists.