Laboratory Art in Practice: Building a Model for the Art/Science Lab at Duke (2022-2023)


Over the past decade, Duke faculty have initiated a range of humanities labs that enable novel configurations of interdisciplinary inquiry, including the WiredLab, Microworlds Lab, Health Humanities Lab, From Slavery to Freedom Lab and more. Whether modeled upon, or against, the traditional science lab, 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.

When science engages artistic practice, it is often in the service of science’s goals: for example, 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. However, emerging lab configurations point toward collaborative models that intersect more robustly at the level of practice: BioArt, critical engineering, creative code and other modes of critical making that productively entangle forms of engagement that would normally be kept separate by disciplinary divides.

Project Description

This project team will establish the framework for developing 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. Team members will develop a guiding ethical framework for instituting a studio art laboratory; proliferate criteria for valuing and critiquing emerging forms of BioArt from a practice-oriented perspective; engage an existing faculty project; develop student-led art projects in the laboratory; and collectively organize an exhibition.

Through a two-semester series of courses, team members will explore critical making at the intersections of art, science and design by investigating different models of artistic 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 within scientific research practices.

Anticipated Outputs

Peer-reviewed journal publications; exhibition of student art; BioArt exhibit at the Nasher; network of artists and scholars (within and outside Duke) using lab methods (broadly conceived) in art, writing and pedagogy; data and methods for future grant applications


Fall 2022 – Spring 2023

  • Fall 2022: Enroll in affiliated course: Laboratory Techniques for Artistic Practices; learn foundations of lab practice; participate in Nina Sherwood’s lab and Kristen Tapson’s “Another Autecology of the Copperhead” project; identify and contact visiting artists to consult on projects
  • Spring 2023: Enroll in affiliated course: Laboratory Art in Practice; host visiting artists; plan, prototype and construct individual and group art/science installations; document and reflect on creative practice

This Team in the News

When Art and Science Meet as Equals

Meet the Members of the 2022-2023 Student Advisory Council

Meet the Winners of the 2022 Bass Connections Student Research Awards


Image: Multi-Nucleated Muscle Cells Grown in Culture, by Kevin A. Murach, Ph.D., University of Kentucky/NIH Image Gallery, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Multi-Nucleated Muscle Cells Grown in Culture.

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, Graduate Program Unspecified
  • Amanda Bennett, Literature-PHD
  • Amal Dadi, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM
  • Danqiong Fan, MFA/Experimental and Doc Arts

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Gayatri Chintala, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Olivia Garrick, Computer Science (BS), Visual Arts (AB2)
  • Eliza Henne, Art History (AB)
  • Jeffrey Hwang
  • Zhamilya Karashukeyeva, DKU Interdisciplinary Studies (BS)
  • Ayesham Khan, Interdepartmental Major
  • Thanaporn Kusupholnand, Biology (BS)
  • Kayla Lihardo
  • Julia Lin, Biology (BS)
  • Monika Narain
  • Nicole Schwartz
  • Ava Wellener
  • Liuren Yin, Computer Science (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • 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
  • Pinar Yoldas, University of California, San Diego