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Visualizing Agriculture

Visualizing Agriculture, Photo by Jaimie Vedres

Artists: Jackson 2Bears , Tori Foster, Mary-Anne McTrowe, Robyn Moody, Adrien Segal, Michelle Sylvestre
Dr. Andre Laroche, Dr. Jamie Larson
 Christina Cuthbertson, Leanne Elias, and Denton Fredrickson
(above): Jaimie Vedres

Visualizing Agriculture was an exhibition at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in partnership with the Data Physicalization Lab at the University of Lethbridge. They invited six artists to respond to genetic data developed by Dr. Jamie Larsen and Dr. André Laroche from the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre: Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. 

Process Image
An early rendering for the projection.

For the exhibition, I was asked to create a didactic piece that would explain the basics of the science and data for the visitors - an area I knew very little about. After several meetings with the scientists and a few hours of watching YouTube videos about genes, we had a rough outline that would result in a time-based projection explaining the basics of genetics and genetic sequencing, as well as the specifics of the scientist's area of research (perennial wheat and stripe rust). 

I created the animation using SVGs and the GreenSock Animation Platform (GSAP). This allowed me to animate using code rather than traditional animation methods. The biggest challenge I had with this was timing each section due to variable rendering time in the browser (the final piece ran a bit faster than I would have liked). 

The animation was projected on a wall with pre-applied vinyl that the project would interact with, namely a stalk of wheat on the right side. Different sections of the animation would use the vinyl wheat in different ways, like to show the benefits of perennial wheat or how the stripe rust pathogen infects the wheat cells. 

Photo of the installed work showing how the wheat genes are sampled and prepared for sequencing.
Still of the animation showing how stripe rust infects the wheat cells.
Still of the animation showing how stripe rust infects the wheat cells.

Given what I learned about the data while creating the piece, it was exciting to then make connections with the artworks. For example, Mary-Anne McTrowe's artwork visualized the 'hypothetical proteins' (a protein whose existence has been predicted, but for which there is a lack of experimental evidence) through weaving. The details about each are expressed through the number of lines and the weave type. 

Artwork by Mary-Anne McTrowe
Data visualization weaving by Mary-Anne McTrowe