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With COVID-19, microorganisms have dramatically migrated from natural science and medicine onto center stage in politics, history, and civil society. Through the artistry of Jim Cogswell, microorganisms can be seen in a delightful and colorful expression on the windows of the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.
Unseen Worlds is an adhesive vinyl mural on the theme of microorganisms. Cogswell, who is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Professor of Art & Design in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, made ink paintings of more than 350 microorganisms which were transferred to a digital format to create machine-cut vinyl film. The brightly colored vinyl elements make visible the world of the unseen, creating a link between art and natural science.
Cogswell also worked with numerous U-M faculty and other researchers from around the world. He would especially like to thank Melissa Duhaime, Assistant Professor, U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Karie Slavik, Associate Director, U-M Biological Station; Deborah L. Gumucio, PhD, Professor Emerita, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology and the Department of Internal Medicine; and Tim McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, Education, and LSA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education.
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Professor of Art & Design
Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan
With COVID-19, microorganisms dramatically migrated from natural science and medicine onto center stage in politics, history, and civil society. Unseen Worlds reframes the teeming world of microorganisms, provoking an awareness of their essential and inescapable presence in our lives, creating links between art and natural science through a contemporary approach to architectural ornament.
A natural science museum makes accessible the rare and exotic, but much of its fascination is centered in the transformation of how we understand what is often overlooked in our everyday lives. The distinctive forms found in this project originate from a ubiquitous yet generally unseen domain of our natural world, transformed and reframed as colorful silhouettes arrayed at the scale of human public spaces. On the windows of the museum a commonplace commercial material, machine-cut adhesive vinyl, brings public attention to the fascinating diversity of these life forms.
The project accounts for the architectural structures of the building, its position in the campus landscape, views through the windows and reflections in the glass, shifting light and shadows due to weather and time of day, the flow of people from one space to another, the curiosity of those who come to explore the science it is based on—a complex network of linkages expanding across overlapping communities and experiences. It is visible to the constant flow of vehicular traffic on Washtenaw Avenue as well as thousands of campus pedestrians daily using the nearby footbridge, sparking curiosity and interest in visiting the museum to learn more about the morphogenetic explosion that has made life as we know it possible on our planet.