Intersecting Data Fields: An Arts & Genomics Collaboration

Jennifer Parker and Karolina Karlic, UC Santa Cruz

This project was born out of a desire to mobilize the power of art to tell a story about the diversity of the people, work, and impact of the Genomics Institute. Artists and Professors Jennifer Parker and Karolina Karlic invited all Genomics Institute faculty, researchers and staff to participate in a portrait series that uncovered the lens through which genomics is seen by the people who live and work in it. Each person was asked to bring an object of significance — something that inspired their being, personally and professionally. The result is a stimulating exploration of the diversity of the group as seen not only through the eyes and expressions, but also through the objects that reflect influences beyond the immediate work space. Given the times available to photograph, not all faculty, researchers and staff of the Genomics Institute were able to participate; those that did represent the extraordinary diversity of the group — from graduate student researchers in cancer, to undergraduate employees who are invaluable to making things operate well, to brilliant computational scientists whose research is dedicated to using genomics to protect species

Karlic and Parker approached their project as a socially engaged art practice, inviting people working with the institute to participate in a photo shoot to document individuals behind genomics research and to document a historic moment for UCSC as it unveils its new home to campus and the public. The participatory element of socially engaged art practice is key, as the project was crafted to spark social interactions with the arts and inspire a new sense of belonging for diverse collaborators merging together to create a shared work environment. Karlic and Parker invited individuals to bring an object of interest or curiosity to be photographed in addition to having their portrait taken. The artwork created is of equal importance to the collaborative act of creating them

The Arts + Genomics initiative is driven by curiosity, intrigue and the general desire to expand research opportunities with art, science, technology and engineering. Spearheaded in 2019 by the Genomics Institute and the OpenLab Collaborative Research Center at UC Santa Cruz, this initiative is designed to establish a platform for artists and scientific researchers to collaborate and exchange ideas. Artists and scientists both chase the exhilaration of “knowing” something new and important. The urge to share this knowledge with others is strong for both. It is our hope that these intersections will ignite interdisciplinary research questions that invite the philosophical, scientific, political and theoretical models of life.