Laboratory Art in Practice (2023-2024)


Over the past decade, Duke faculty have initiated a range of humanities labs that enable novel configurations of interdisciplinary inquiry, including the WiredLabMicroworlds LabHealth Humanities LabFrom Slavery to Freedom Lab and more. While interdisciplinary, these initiatives have had limited engagement with the natural sciences. Rarely in these labs do the arts, humanities and sciences engage each other at the level of practice — the artist studio, seminar table and lab bench.

When science engages artistic practice, it is often in the service of goals such as acknowledging the need for aesthetic design in scientific figures, appreciating the beauty of scientific imaging or considering how visual and analytical skills might translate into scientific visual diagnostic acuity. Problems that require collective orientation can still isolate the humanities to the role of ethical judge and arts to the role of aestheticizing social problems relative to science’s capacity for intervention. 

There is strong interest among students and faculty for opportunities that explore how scientific laboratory practices might inform creative work and arts-based research, and vice-versa.

Project Description

Building on the work of the 2022-2023 project team, this team will establish the framework for an interdisciplinary laboratory space for artists at Duke and expand the repertoire of practiced-based research methods in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies to include the media and techniques from the biological and natural sciences. 

Through a two-semester series of courses, team members will explore different models of science-inflected art practices while participating in laboratory work. In the fall, team members will be introduced to historical, ethical and social descriptions of experimental practice from within science studies; learn lab techniques (e.g., microscopy, dissection, immunostaining, keeping a lab notebook); and study artwork that incorporates media, instruments and practices from the life sciences. 

In the spring, team members will develop individual and group lab projects for exhibition and host visiting artists for studio critiques and workshops. Through these projects, the team will examine frameworks for mobilizing artistic inquiry and creative expression within scientific research practices.

Anticipated Outputs

BioArt curriculum and accompanying lab practices; database of international artists and labs working at intersection of art and science; grant-funding applications; proposal establishing sustainable lab studio at Duke; peer-reviewed journal publications; exhibition of student and faculty artwork; small-press publishing arm for lab; publication of art/science protocol zines

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 4 graduate students and 10 undergraduate students from across the creative arts, humanities, engineering and natural sciences. Students should have a desire to explore experimental methods in the practices of laboratory science and must be able to demonstrate resilience in the face of setbacks and ambiguity. Students should have broad interest in visual arts, sound art, embodied praxis, poetics, computation, media studies and do-it-yourself making practices either within or outside of academic contexts. 

Team members will develop facility with specific laboratory techniques and an operative understanding of how those might inflect their critical creative practices, as well as articulate a range of possible modes of relating to specific science practices. Graduate students will have the unique opportunity to participate in the pragmatics of scaffolding institutional foundations for experimental frameworks while imagining how those might connect to broader publics beyond the university. Students will also learn about emerging publishing platforms and will have the opportunity to develop experimental circulation networks for disseminating their work.

A graduate student with skills in lab management and exhibition logistics planning will be selected as program manager. 

There is an optional opportunity to work on the project in Summer 2023.


Summer 2023 – Spring 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional):  Establish a small-press publishing arm for the lab; create zines and publish on digital and print platforms
  • Fall 2023: Learn foundations of lab practice; identify and contact visiting artists to consult on student projects
  • Spring 2024: Host visiting artists; plan, prototype and construct individual and group art/science installations; document and reflect on practice


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, Laboratory Art in Practice: Building a Model for the Art/Science Lab at Duke (2022-2023).


Image: As part of a unique collaboration between the Duke Children’s Hospital and the Duke Innovation Co-Lab, 3D printed hearts from patients’ CT scans help cardiac surgeons visualize and plan a surgery to correct heart defects, by Jared Lazarus/Duke University

3D-printed hearts on display.

Team Leaders

  • Mark Olson, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • Nina Sherwood, Arts & Sciences-Biology
  • Kristen Tapson, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/graduate Team Members

  • Alexis Bailey, Cell and Molecular Biology-PHD
  • Alex Brown, Art and Art History-PHD
  • Ruyan Chen, Art and Art History-PHD
  • Huaixin Zheng, Art and Art History-PHD
  • Junhan Ye, Art and Art History-PHD
  • Catherine Gambel, Art and Art History-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Victoria Bolling, Biology (AB)
  • Junyi Yu
  • Andrew Kochuba, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Emily Dieu
  • Aissatou Diallo

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Kathleen Miglia, Biology
  • Raquel Salvatella De Prada, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • Eric P Spana, Arts & Sciences-Biology
  • Sarah Wilbur, Arts & Sciences-Dance

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Jasmine Lu, University of Chicago
  • Sherly Fan, Multimedia Experimental Filmmaker and Artist
  • Pinar Yoldas, University of California, San Diego