• MFA in Fine Arts

  • Andrea Gonzalez
    Byron Peters
    Jacob Wick
    Jaimie Healy
    Jordan Reznick
    Jsun Charles-Jeremiah Parizo
    Julia Robertson
    Julie Feldman
    Kenny Kong
    Nan Peletz
    Sadie Harmon
    Sara Sellitto
    Seth Gutierrez
    Tiffany Canter
    Tim Power
    Zoe McCloskey

  • Kate Nichols - CCA Graduate Thesis Events

    Kate Nichols

    Gestate 3
    Gestate 2.
    A.xylinum 1
    Second skin 8.
    Twice-curious
    A possibility as vibrant as it is improbable 2.
    in them, we see ourselves.
    Mirror drawing 1.
    Through the Looking Glass 1.
    birdwatching

    Gestate 3

    Photograph, 13" x 9, 2012.

    In 2010, I began a collaboration with Dr. Jeff Skerker and the Arkin Lab, a bioengineering lab at UC Berkeley. The scientists in the Arkin Lab devote much of their effort to trying to break down cellulose; I asked them if they could help me grow cellulose from a bacteria called A.xylinum. I became interested in this material because I was looking for a transparent substrate for my silver nanoparticles that lacked the slick perfection of glass. I wanted to work with something softer, organic, and less controlled. I was drawn to bacterial cellulose party because it shared another life with silver nanoparticles; together, they are used as a temporary artificial skin for burn victims. As I began culturing this organism and harvesting the cellulose it grows, I realized that it has something to say on its own. It doesn’t need me to shape it, draw images on it, or adorn it with silver nanoparticles. I became most interested in the cellulose’s capacity to communicate directly with the body of a viewer. The visceral response it elicits is one of recognition: in one body, another sees elements of its own. This inquiry has branched off into a few projects: a series of photographs, Gestate, a series of photograms, A.xylinum, and a portable peepshow.

    Gestate 2.

    Photograph, 13" x 9, 2012.

    In 2010, I began a collaboration with Dr. Jeff Skerker and the Arkin Lab, a bioengineering lab at UC Berkeley. The scientists in the Arkin Lab devote much of their effort to trying to break down cellulose; I asked them if they could help me grow cellulose from a bacteria called A.xylinum. I became interested in this material because I was looking for a transparent substrate for my silver nanoparticles that lacked the slick perfection of glass. I wanted to work with something softer, organic, and less controlled. I was drawn to bacterial cellulose party because it shared another life with silver nanoparticles; together, they are used as a temporary artificial skin for burn victims. As I began culturing this organism and harvesting the cellulose it grows, I realized that it has something to say on its own. It doesn’t need me to shape it, draw images on it, or adorn it with silver nanoparticles. I became most interested in the cellulose’s capacity to communicate directly with the body of a viewer. The visceral response it elicits is one of recognition: in one body, another sees elements of its own. This inquiry has branched off into a few projects: a series of photographs, gestate, a series of photograms, A.xylinum, and a portable peepshow.

    A.xylinum 1

    Silver gelatin photogram, 20”x 16”, 2011.

    Photograms are created by placing an object on light-sensitive paper and then turning the lights on. Place the paper in developing solution, and an inverse record of the object emerges. Like a fingerprint and fingertip, a photogram has an indexical relationship to the object it pictures. The simplicity of these relationships give these modes of picturing an air of credulity. I’ve chosen to document the cellulose skins I grow in the Arkin Lab, with photograms because the photogram bears a kinship to methods of data-collection I use in the lab. For example, I use a spectrometer to shine light through solutions to see their chemical signatures. In the case of the organism that produced these sheets of cellulose, I had its DNA sequenced to verify that it was indeed the bacteria I intended to culture, A.xylinum. Yet something shifts when I take these fleshy cellulose samples from the lab and into the darkroom for our fingerprinting sessions. The part of me that measured this organism’s food to the milligram and its pH to the second decimal place takes a breather while I play with shadows and sleights of hand.

    Second skin 8.

    Cellulose grown by A.xylinum, 24” x 15.5”, 2011.

    In 2010, I began a collaboration with Dr. Jeff Skerker and the Arkin Lab, a bioengineering lab at UC Berkeley. The scientists in the Arkin Lab devote much of their effort to trying to break down cellulose; I asked them if they could help me grow cellulose from a bacteria called A.xylinum. I became interested in this material because I was looking for a transparent substrate for my silver nanoparticles that lacked the slick perfection of glass. I wanted to work with something softer, organic, and less controlled. I was drawn to bacterial cellulose party because it shared another life with silver nanoparticles; together, they are used as a temporary artificial skin for burn victims. As I began culturing this organism and harvesting the cellulose it grows, I realized that it has something to say on its own. It doesn’t need me to shape it, draw images on it, or adorn it with silver nanoparticles. I became most interested in the cellulose’s capacity to communicate directly with the body of a viewer. The visceral response it elicits is one of recognition: in one body, another sees elements of its own. This inquiry has branched off into a few projects: a series of photographs, gestate, a series of photograms, A.xylinum, and a portable peepshow. Here, we see the cellulose skins themselves.

    Twice-curious

    Oil on panel, 24” x 12”, 2012.

    A possibility as vibrant as it is improbable 2.

    Aluminum on leather, 22”x 22”, 2013.

    in them, we see ourselves.

    Silver nanoparticles and silver mirroring on glass, 36” x 65”, 2012.

    When I first joined the Alivisatos Lab as their artist-in-residence, I imagined that my close encounters with nanoscience would transport me into some sort of unfathomable, futuristic world unlike anything I’d ever experienced. That panned out. What I didn’t expect was this: many of the techniques I learned in the lab originate in processes developed by artisans centuries ago. This made me realize that, as an artist in a materials science lab, I wasn’t so out of my element after all. I was especially intrigued to find that cutting-edge plasmonic nanoparticle synthesis owes much to Victorian-era mirror-makers and photographers. In this series of works on glass, we experience Victorian-era mirror-making technology and contemporary plasmonic nanotechnology side by side. In each, we see elements of the other. Standing before these mirrored surfaces, we recognize ourselves—both in our reflections and in the silver images on the glass’s surface. These silvered forms suggest elements of our own anatomy. In them, we see the beginnings of bodies, the residue of bodies, and the primordial bodies that preceded our own. Though these images don’t represent anything in particular, they evoke clamshells and shore, supernova and viscera. The reason for this could be the way in which they are made—by fluid fronts advancing and retreating, flowing until they meet an obstacle, then pooling in pits, folds, and gullies.

    Mirror drawing 1.

    Silver mirroring on glass, 30” x 36”, 2011.

    Through the Looking Glass 1.

    Silver nanoparticles on glass, 24" x 45", 2011.

    Through the Looking Glass was commissioned by The Leonardo, a museum of art and science in Salt Lake City. This installation invites us to witness the beguiling optical behavior of nanoscale matter without screen or scope, using only the naked eye. Only by virtue of their sheer number are these particles visible: trillions of sub-wavelength particles are pressed between panes of glass. Approaching the piece from across the room, we soon realize that the color of the silver nanoparticles pressed between the panes of glass is dynamic, dependent on the movement of the viewer and the light the piece receives. A second series of glass panels hangs on the wall perpendicular to the first. Also made of silver and glass, these are chemically identical to their companion set. I created these using a Victorian-era recipe for making mirrors that is strikingly similar to my nanoparticle synthesis. Yet at first glance, the two sets of panels share little in common. Next to the unearthly color of the nanoparticle panels, the colors generated using the Victorian mirroring technique look muted. This makes sense: the pronounced colors of silver nanoparticles arise because these particles are smaller than wavelengths of visible light. Their color is not chemical—it’s structural, a result of the size, shape, and environment of these particles. The mirrored pieces are made from chunks of silver much too large to interact with light in this way. Instead, they behave how we might expect a silver mirror or silver spoon would. But not quite. The mirrored panels contain subtle colors—whispers of greens and blues—that could not exist unless there were traces of nanoscale formations present in these pieces I made using nineteenth-century technology. Pairing the silver nanoparticles with the silver mirrors makes visible that, yes, size does matter. But beyond this, the pairing tethers our experience of nanoscience to its deep history and acknowledges the diverse practitioners—many of them artisans—who contributed to its development.

    birdwatching

    Sequence of photographs taken with gelatin lens, 2.18 minutes, 2012.

    In birdwatching, serial images viewed through a flawed homemade lens evoke a restless, roving eye, the uncertainty of navigating by flashlight, and the thrill of spying through a keyhole. The close range at which we examine wisps of down and furls of feather suggest scientific curiosity and the myopia of the microscope. I’m thinking about how light projects a circle of illumination into the eye and into a camera, and how seventeenth-century scientist and mathematician Johannes Kepler pointed out that human eyes work much as cameras do. Kepler showed that human vision isn’t any sort of direct communion between objects and our eyes, but instead the result of light bouncing randomly off objects and “painting” images on our retinas. In other words, we see images—not people or objects or their essences. We see light. Descartes responded by asking: if we can only experience projections on our retinas, how can we know what exists outside our eyes? I’m not sure, but I think it’s a bird.

    Gestate 3  thumbnail
    Gestate 2. thumbnail
    A.xylinum 1  thumbnail
    Second skin 8. thumbnail
    Twice-curious thumbnail
    A possibility as vibrant as it is improbable 2. thumbnail
    in them, we see ourselves. thumbnail
    Mirror drawing 1. thumbnail
    Through the Looking Glass 1. thumbnail
    birdwatching thumbnail

    nicholskate@gmail.com

    www.katenicholsstudio.com

    Artist Statement

    When I become curious about something, my first instinct is to try to make it. In the minds of 15th century Christian theologians, curiosity was a vice—a passion for knowing unnecessary things, things God meant to remain hidden. Theologians recognized that the first step to subverting the order of creation was to mimic it.

    The world these early Christian theologians feared is the world we live in today. The order of the day is transgenic organisms, 3D-printed organs, and particle accelerators. Certainly it wasn’t paintings of flowers that got us here. Then again, let’s not dismiss the idea so quickly.

    As an artist steeped in a tradition of painting obsessed with versimilitude, who makes nanoparticles to mimic structurally colored animals, and who grows artificial skin from microorganisms, I realize how all these practices have a common root in mimesis and curiosity. I find it fascinating to imagine mimetic painting on a continuum with artificial organs and transgenic organisms.

    I’m interested in mimesis: its capacity to attract, to seduce, to dissemble. And in the point at which mimicking something gives way to creating something entirely new—the impossible, the unpaintable, the unknowable.