“Art the IES” – The artist in residence program of the IES moves to the next level

According to many different dictionaries, “in residence” refers to officially staying or living somewhere. However, looking at the artist in residence program “Art the IES” of the Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, it might be worth reflecting about this meaning. Since its kick-off meeting in June, the program has successfully moved to the next level, even though it is exclusively virtual so far.

"Cell Death” by Anna Dumitru (2000), etching

Anna Dumitriu Portrait Courtesy of Wired Magazine

"Cell" by Anna Dumitru (1998-1999)

Usually, the essence of an “artist’s residency” is that the artist joins the research institution, works alongside scientists and gets into a close dialogue with them. However, this is quite difficult at the moment. So, how can an artist residency be arranged during the COVID-19 pandemic? Prof. Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla, the Director of the Institute, Amelie Kraus, the Scientific Coordinator of the Epigenetics@HMGU research community, and Dr. Claudia Schnugg, the well-known SciArt-Advocate have been facing this very question since April for setting up “Art the IES” - the first artist in residence program of the Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells (IES) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. While in person meetings were possible during the preparatory phase earlier this year, the actual program is operating in a virtual form. 

Despite these limitations, Art-the-IES has evolved from idea to implementation. To the joy of all participants, the famous and talented Bio-Artist Anna Dumitriu joined the program in May and the program was officially launched in June (for the announcement, see here). Anna Dumitriu has an impressive portfolio of BioArt projects and her work has been featured in prestigious venues including ZKM; The Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Ars Electronica, The Picasso Museum Barcelona, The V&A Museum and many more. Moreover, she has an extraordinary track record in being an artist in residence, but starting a residency virtually was something new to her too.

At the beginning of a residency, she usually has a lot of meetings with the scientists to talk about their research. “Such meetings are important to me to get a better understanding of the scientific research,” said Anna. “Usually, they are in person. Since this has not been possible, we did video calls instead, and actually it has worked surprisingly well and I am very excited about what will come next when we can meet face to face and I can start to work hands-on in the lab with them.” Performing her own experiments in the residency lab is usually an integral part of Anna’s work. “I love to make my artworks hands-on in the lab (as much as I do in the studio) and I already have a long list of techniques to learn and activities to try when I do come,” Anna added.  All scientists, who spoke to Anna, share her impressions and are looking forward to the “real” residency and that she joins the institute. Manuel Guthmann, a PhD student at the IES, said: “It was very nice talking to her and I’m looking forward to more discussion when she comes. I’m very curious to see how the residency will shape her point of view on what we do in the lab.”