Bio Art: sculpting plants with fungi in the laboratory

Bio art is a contemporary art form that uses scientific methods and technology to artistically explore living systems. 

In this work, I collaborate with Joshua trees and their symbiotic soil fungi (arbuscular mycorrhizae) and was the first to discover this relationship for Joshua trees. I identified new fungal communities and showed that these fungal relationships can become harmful or helpful in response to the changing climate with consequences to Joshua tree survival. The different fungal species had direct impacts on Joshua tree form and function, effectively sculpting plant roots and leaves.

I developed a new method to inoculate Joshua tree seedlings with fungal communities that I collect across Joshua Tree National Park. After months of growing I study the plant's physiological responses to the different fungi. I chemically clear and stain plant roots with different colored dyes to visualize the fungal structures which change with changing climate. The images are captured using high-powered microscopic cameras. Each fungal structure is a unique aesthetic response to its host's environmental conditions. Together the artistic and scientific discoveries inform conservation for desert ecosystems.

This work has impacted environmental policy through collaborations with The Summer Tree Institute where I generated artworks to convey the complexity of desert ecosystems. My art was successfully used to support a report and book publication that challenged the harmful construction of utility scale solar projects, helping to build environmentally friendly regulations in San Bernardino County.

To see more ways that I use bio art to collaborate with organisms, check out my soil symbiosis art,  tree sound wave research and my work with the Algae Society!

Press

Jennifer Albrink, 2019. A Joshua Tree Love Story at the black rock gallery. Palm Springs Life. https://www.palmspringslife.com/events/art-exhibition-a-joshua-tree-love-story-at-the-black-rock-art-gallery/

Staff, 2019. Networked: Sci + Art exhibition. Curate LA. https://curate.la/event.php?id=17148

Shane Newell, 2019. 5 Things to see at the Joshua Tree National Art Expo. Desert Sun. https://www.desertsun.com/story/life/entertainment/arts/2019/09/14/5-things-see-joshua-tree-national-park-art-expo-twentynine-palms/2296503001/

 

Hillary Sloane, 2019. Juniper and the Joshua trees: Morongo Valley native delves into the desert species’ survival. Hi-Desert Star. http://www.hidesertstar.com/news/article_10e1b540-45f1-11e9-8b1e-27d25306a10f.html

Richard Dion, 2019. Juniper Harrower on art and science. The Soul of California podcast. http://thesoulofcalifornia.libsyn.com/

Philip Kiefer, 2018. Iconic Joshua Trees may disappear but scientists are fighting back.

National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/joshua-trees-moths-threatened-climate-change-scientists-seek-solutions

Publications

Harrower, J. 2019. Merging Art, Science, and Motherhood to Save Joshua Trees. Leonardo: doi: 10.1162/leon_a_01791

Harrower, J., Parker, J., Merson, M., 2018. (cover feature) Species Loss: Exploring Opportunities with Art-Science. Journal of Integrative and Comparative Biology:doi.10.1093/icb/icy016

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