Projects at Broad > Sequencing stories

Artist Statement: Sequencing stories

Mixed media on paper: metallic pen, Saral © transfer, and water-soluble wax pastel on archival inkjet print on Sunset Hot Press Rag paper, laser cut on vellum.
Installation size variable. Each print/drawing, approximately 17”x 11”, 17”x 22.5”, 30”x 18” each

Sequencing stories is a series of drawings on archival pigment prints and laser cut on vellum. Archival prints are based on the original paper on Human Genome Project published in 2001, and layered with shapes of torn sheets and magic spells traced from Edwin Smith Papyrus, traced scientific writing from the whiteboards, and geometric shapes using architectural templates.

Sequencing the past
From the April, 2016 - Dec., 2017, I was the Artist-in-Residence at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. During my residency, I became curious about what we may have lost in the progress of medical science. My work weaves together information taken from three different points in time—ancient origin, contemporary past, and present—in an attempt to locate one’s position in time by referencing three different historical points. The Edwin Smith Papyrus from 1600BC, the medical papyrus in ancient Egypt that included prognosis for the first time in recorded history, Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome, a paper on Human Genome Project, and scientific writings I traced from the whiteboards.

On the Edwin Smith Papyrus, rational science is not seen as being at odds with magic, and on its verso, magic spells are recorded as legitimate medical treatments. These spells—indecipherable to the untrained eye—operate as formal visual elements in my work, like technical scientific writings I observed on the whiteboards that can sometimes seem at once beautiful and difficult for a layperson to understand.

Scholars posit that in ancient Egypt, the same content was transcribed many times, over a period of 200-300 years. That means that the methods of diagnosing and treating illness didn’t change significantly either.

Only fifteen years after the sequencing of the human genome was completed, we’re talking about precision medicine and using CRISPR, a genome editing technology. During the past few decades, science, medicine, and technology have been moving at an exponential speed. We live in a compressed time in terms of technological and scientific advancement. How do we begin to comprehend a world which moves at this super-fast speed? My confusions with time and its speed seemed more heightened at the Broad Institute where the most cutting-edge genome science was taking place.

My work points us back toward a cycle of exploration to understand the progress.

A quotation from T. S. Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding” reminds me of this journey:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The installation loops back to this quote, only to begin another exploration.

Special thanks to Bang Wong, Andrew Tubelli, and Mariya Kahn at the Broad Institute and FreeFall Laser for their assistance with laser cutting project, and Daisy Wong for her assistance with the installation at the Boston Arts Academy. Deep gratitude for the Broad Institute for giving me an opportunity to wander and observe around the Institute for extended periods of time. I'm grateful for many scientists and staff who welcomed me with their open arms and open minds. Special thanks to S.H. for her tireless support on so many administrative and logistical matters.

Artist's Statement: Sequencing stories
Artist's Statement: Sequencing stories