My scientist partner Camilla Engblom and I have been talking, and we have both noted how our processes are similar in their slowness.
I’m an artist, and a fashion designer by vocation. I’ve never worked for a big company and preferred to oversee everything myself. I prefer that collections don’t come off the sewing table faster than I can personally witness them. Speed is not my concern, but effective integration is- fabric, design, function, utility, longevity.
Camilla explained to me that the current state of science in her field is very much the same way. There is a big push to publish ("publish or perish" is a common mantra) and results cannot come fast enough to compete for funding that is hard to come by. However, this desire for pushing research forward can make us outrun ourselves and make us unable to gauge the longevity of our own discoveries, their efficacy, or even truth. The nature of the work that she does is slow; one single experiment can take up to three months from start to finish! It requires close investigations that take a long time to physically gaze upon, manipulate, test, and develop.
That said, we recognize that we are similar in the ways in which we approach our disciplines. It’s not that we are physically slow (our days are filled to the brim!), but we are trying our darndest to be patient. And this patience is intended as a process of distilment in the hopes of a greater outcome, be it a solution, object, answer, or for these purposes, a runway look. Even in this collaboration, which is short in duration considering the scale of Camilla’s work. In short, patience, patience.
Here is one example that exemplifies this slow, but constantly evolving process and witnesses what appears to be nominal change but is, in effect, revolutionary. When we first began, Camilla had some images of her research, but they were a little difficult to imagine striking a runway look- to the inexperienced eye. I was challenged to strike up a visual response in textiles and form. In an effort to get conceptual, I reached towards my anthropological tendencies as a way to translate her information. It wasn’t as technical as we had hoped, but we remained patient.
But then! One day, she accessed an imaging process that changed the whole situation- we were actually able to see where the cells that she studies are located! It reminded me immediately of starling murmuration, which, of course, could be a stunning effect in pattern and line and flow. This creative meandering was then inspired again by a new imaging process that uses fluorescence to isolate particular cells so they can be tracked. The visual is a spectrum of blues, yellows, and grays. A map! What a boon for Camilla’s research. And, to be quite frank, artists and designers absolutely love themselves some maps and diagrams, especially ones with color. Now we are on our way.
When I showed this to Camilla, she said…
“Actually here, are you talking about the flowcytometry or the image with the yellow/green/blue? If it is the flowcytometry, I have been doing this all along but just (finally) figured out a way to show it to you in a way that makes sense! I had a small epiphany and just thought "I just need to show Nicole the bone marrow, the way that I see it". And hence, came the flowcytometry that made you think of the birds (nothing revolutionary about this process for me unfortunately, I do this weekly) and see the different populations of cells. It does make me able to see migration because I can look at different organs, like the bone marrow and lung and see the same cells in each place. But you are right! It is a map of the bone marrow! Where each dot is a cell and has a place in the map based on its light scattering properties.
The second image of the bone marrow: the one with yellow fluorescent protein, the immune cells and the blood vessels, this was the new approach that I just started using! It was the first time I was able to see MY cells using this approach. It will open doors for me in my research and it did for you too I think in terms of inspiration :) I am GLAD!”
So, we keep moving! This is completely fascinating.