The Ohio State University > Department of Art > Art & Technology + Molecular Genetics

ARTSCI 5194 Arts and Sciences Interdisciplinary Group Studies

Harvesting Color: the art and science of plant/human relationships

Carmen login

Creativity is intelligence having fun – Albert Einstein

The most important expression in scientific discovery is not "Heureka!" but "This is strange...?" – Isaac Asimov

Course Description

Using artistic and scientific methods students will investigate relationships between plants and people, with specific attention to color. Through experimentation and aesthetic research, the value and use of plant pigments will be examined, manipulated and creatively represented.

Course Meeting Time and Locations

Mon/Wed, 4:00 - 7:00 Jennings 014 & Hopkins Hall 146. Please note the 2 locations, we will move between them and keep you updated as to where class meetings will be held. Please check the schedule outline below and/or Carmen.


Iris Meier, Professor of Molecular Genetics
Office: 520 Aronoff Labs, ph: 2-8323

Amy Youngs, Associate Professor of Art
email: - best way to contact me
ph: Art Department (614) 292-5072 - a place to leave messages for me.
Office: Hopkins Hall, room 150. Mailbox: 258 Hopkins Hall

  • Demonstrated ability to apply both artistic and scientific methods to a project
  • To gain an understanding of the cultural, economic, medical and aesthetic connections between humans and plants 
  • To create an artwork that reveals and presents the student’s investigations

Course Content and Procedures

We will take students through the experience of man’s connection to and use of plants, focusing on one example and expanding from it. The example will be the use of common Marigold flowers to make two products used nutritionally and aesthetically by people. Marigolds are widely used by different cultures as ornamental and ceremonial flowers. The first product is the yellow compound Lutein, which is marketed in health-supplement stores as a protective agent against age-related macular degeneration. The concept of a yellow pigment being causally involved in human vision will here be explored. The second is a yellow dye that can be used to dye silk and wool, and can be seen as an example of the rich history of the use of plant and animal-based natural dyes. The interconnectedness of the two compounds and their use will be explored. The course will have a scientific and an artistic component. Students will harvest fresh flower petals, as it is done in the fields of India where Marigold is commercially grown for Lutein extraction. They will use simple extraction procedures to enrich and purify Lutein, will detect and identify compounds in their extracts by thin-layer chromatography and spectrophotometry, and will compare quantitatively and qualitatively the “color yellow” they have harvested from the flowers. The students will acquire methods used in this part in part by exploring the patent literature, thus adding the layer “patents from nature” to the themes explored. Using their extracts, they will dye a material yellow, and appreciate the technical aspect of light fastness of natural compounds used to color objects. We will accompany this hands-on part of the course with the presentation and discussion of literature selected to explore more deeply the use of plants by people.

Artistic methods, such as observation, speculation, synthesis, manipulation, construction and presentation, will be used to develop and create an artwork generated by the course content.

Requirements and Evaluation

40% Final project, presented in art exhibition
20% Detailed research notebook, including images, observations, sketches, maps and reflections.
20% Written scientific report 2 – 3 pages (guidelines posted here).
20% Active participation in class activities and discussions


There will be required and optional readings in this course. The required portions will be available online, in our Carmen resources, or in the library. Check the schedule for details. Inspirations/bibliography for this class:

Gessert, George, Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution, MIT Press, 2010.
Wilson, Stephen, Art+Science Now, Thames & Hudson, 2010.
Mitchell, Robert, Bioart and the Vitality of Media, University of Washington Press, 2010.
Anker, Suzanne and Nelkin, Dorothy, The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Genetic Age, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2004
Pollan, Michael, Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World. New York: Random House, 2001. 
Anderson, Edgar, Plants, Man and Life, Dover, 2005 (1971 originally)
Hobhouse, Henry, Seeds of Change: Six Plant that Transformed Mankind, Counterpoint, Berkeley, CA, 2006

Attendance policy

Don't miss class. Don't arrive late or leave early. You are expected to come to class on time, ready to work, discuss or present, depending on what is scheduled that day. Your final grade will be lowered by one full letter upon your fourth absence - and again for each additional absence. 4 late arrivals or early departures = 1 absence. Absences are absences, whether or not you have a note. Please use your 3 allowed absenses wisely. You are responsible to find out what you missed and to complete any missed work.

Disability policy

Students with disabilities that have been certified by the Office for Disability Services will be appropriately accommodated, and should inform the instructor as soon as possible of their needs.  The Office for Disability Services is located in 150 Pomerene Hall, 1760 Neil Avenue; telephone 292-3307, TDD 292-0901;

Academic misconduct

It is the responsibility of the Committee on Academic Misconduct to investigate or establish procedures for the investigation of all reported cases of student academic misconduct. The term “academic misconduct” includes all forms of student academic misconduct wherever committed; illustrated by, but not limited to, cases of plagiarism and dishonest practices in connection with examinations. Instructors shall report all instances of alleged academic misconduct to the committee (Faculty Rule 3335-5-487). For additional information, see the Code of Student Conduct.

Schedule overview

MON Jan 6 Jennings 014

Snow day.


WED Jan 8 Jennings 014

Introduction - Plants and humanity.
Introduce Artistic strategies and research notebook concept. Bring notebook for next class and every class.

Culture: Artist in the Lab, by Martin Kemp. Article in the journal, Nature (you need to log into the OSU library for this) Optional: select from a variety of plant biology textbooks for background study, primary literature, patents, we will make available in the classroom and in Carmen

MON Jan 13
Jennings 014

Greenhouse tour at 4pm. Observe plants, photograph and/or draw them. Record in research notebook.

River of Gold, each student brings 5 yellow/gold objects from home for an in-class taxonomy exercise.

Listen: Radiolab episode on color:

WED Jan 15
Jennings 014

Introduction - Marigolds- aesthetic, ritual, and practical uses.  Introduction to an artmaking protocol for diagramming, planning and executing an art/science project.

Look through the articles in the "Marigold Literature and Information" section in the Carmen content area and choose one or two to read. We will discuss. Watch: A plant’s-eye view, Ted Talk by Michael Pollan Optional reading: The Tulip (pg 61- 110), in The Botany of Desire, Pollan, Michael.

– MON Jan 20

MLK Day, no classes.

WED Jan 22Jennings 014

Students chose their experimental set-up. Start extraction.

Read patents and primary literature about Lutein extraction and crystallization.

MON Jan 27Jennings 014

Color extracts and chromatography. Present creative process diagram in class.

Create your own creative process diagram and present it in class.

WED Jan 29Jennings 014

Discuss TLC results. Discuss reading. Students present inital artwork concepts.

Read Rainforests of Domestication, (pg 21 - 31) in the book, Green Light, Toward an Art of Evolution, by George Gessert.

MON Feb 3Jennings 014

Run additional TLC experiments. The use of natural dyes.

Read saponification paper posted in Carmen.

WED Feb 5Jennings 014

Characterize color extracts – spectrophotometry. Students form initial working groups based on artwork concepts.


MON Feb 10
Jennings 014

Guest lecture: Dr Rebecca Lamb. The biology of flowers. Student presentations.

Prepare presentations on art questions

WED Feb 12Jennings 014

The mysterious world of pollen, a guest lecture by Anya Dobrista. Lab work with saponification.


MON Feb 17
Jennings 014

Student groups present art concepts to class. Decide as a class on which projects to focus on and form new working groups.

Prepare group presentations on group art concepts

WED Feb 19
Jennings 014

Characterize color extracts – thin layer chromatography. Art project working groups present their preliminary research and timelines for further experiments. Discussion of artistic experimentation.

Work on art experiments, prepare to discuss.

MON Feb 24
Jennings 014

Group interpretation and presentation of scientific results. Discussion about what experiments should be run next.


WED Feb 26
Jennings 014

Crystallize Lutein. Groups also work on art projects.


MON Mar 3
Jennings 014

Working groups present/discuss progress.


WED Mar 5
Jennings 014

Mordant fabrics/materials. Students bring their materials to prepare for dye. Next science experiments are run.


– Mar 10 - 14

SPRING BREAK, no classes


MON Mar 17
Jennings 014

Make aqueous extracts from dye plants, set up dye vats.


WED Mar 19
Hopkins 146

Working groups present/discuss progress


MON Mar 24
Jennings 014

Continue to work on dye vats


WED Mar 26
Hopkins 146

Setting up art projects on site


MON Mar 31
Hopkins 146

Working groups present/discuss progress.


WED Apr 2
Hopkins 146

Working groups present/discuss progress.


MON Apr 7

Science report due today, submit into Carmen dropbox. Working groups present/discuss progress


WED Apr 9
Hopkins 146

Work day on art projects


MON Apr 14
Hopkins Hall gallery

Critique of art project on site


WED Apr 16
Hopkins Hall gallery

Fine tune art projects


MON Apr 21
Hopkins Hall gallery

Set up exhibition in Hopkins Hall gallery and collaboratory


TUES Apr 22
Hopkins Hall gallery

Public exhibition opening celebration from 5 - 8pm. Invite your friends and family!

Exhibition will have additional open hours Wed through Fri.


FRI Apr 25
Hopkins Hall gallery
Exhibition has open hours from 11 - 4pm, then must be de-installed at 4pm. Cleanup space and remove all materials.  
This schedule is subject to change - check Carmen and stay alert in class for updates as we go.

extracts of marigold arranged by color

Course handouts

Marigold Dye Project
Yellow Dye Extraction from Tagetes Erecta
How to write a science report

Artmaking protocol
Creative process diagram
Creative conceptual strategies

Related blogs, articles, videos and other online resources

Antennae, The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. Online journal, 2007 - ongoing.
Art and Genetics Bibliography, Compiled by George Gessert
Next Nature
Is this Bioart?
Spaid, Sue Ecovention, Current Art to Transform Ecologies, Contemporary Arts Center, June 2002.
Stephen Wilson's links for artworks at the intersection of Biology: Microbiology, Bioengineering, Stem Cells; Biology: Animals & Plants; Ecology; Body & Medicine
Art + Science resource links from Steve Wilson's book of the same name

Vilem Flusser, Curie's Children, * Early speculations about genetic art, first published in Art Forum, October 1988, p. 9
Haeckel, Ernst Art Forms in Nature, Dover Publications; Rev Ed edition 1974, originally published in 1904 - that version is in the public domain and online here
Plants-in-Motion, time-lapse videos by Roger P. Hangarter
Gift of Green, film from 1946. "The power of our complex age, we owe to the green plants"
BBC How to Grow a Planet, Life from Light full hour show.

Iris' Plantarium news

Plant biology resources

Plants and Energy - Miscanthus Research into biofuels
Bill Gates and Plants
The Arabidopsis Book
More Genes Than Humans: The Tomato Decoded
ASPB Blog: Plants in the News
Botany Online - the internet hypertextbook

Artists and related projects

Mark Dion - video of Neukom Vivarium Nurse log greenhouse project in Seattle starts at 5'30"
George Gessert - breeding flowers as an artform
Tiddo Bakker - Message in a vein, a project to show plant reactions in a way that is visible to humans
Wolfgang Laib - plant pollen installations
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison - eco-art pioneers who think of the ecosystem as their client when accepting commissions.
Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey - installations and imagery on photosensitive grass
Aurora Robson - plastic trash turned into fantastical representations of the organic
Bill Smith - Art/Science inspired installations
Biomodd - symbiotic installations connecting people, computers and plants. Collaborative project led by Anthony Vermeulen
Rectified Flowers - panaramic photos from inside the flower
After Agri - an opera singer forms a unique relationship with algae
Golden Spider Silk, by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley
Natural History of the Enigma, by Eduardo Kac
Common Flowers / Flower Commons, by Shiho Fukuhara and Georg Tremmel
Interactive Plant Growing, by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau

Exhibitions and Conferences

Grow Your Own: Life after nature, Science Gallery Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Jan 2014
Bio:Fiction Science, Art & Film Festival, (films online here). Was at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria, May 2011
Visceral: the living art experiment, Science Gallery Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, Feb. 2011
Dead or Alive: Nature becomes Art, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY 2010
Liverpool, UK, 2008 and Luxembourg, Belgium 2009
sLowlife, traveling exhibition organized by US Botanic Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden and Roger Hangarter 2006 - 2010
ART et BIOTECHNOLOGIES, Conference and book, Montreal, Canada 2005
BioFeel at the Biennale of Electronic Arts, Perth, Australia, 2002
Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution, New York, 2000
Botanica: Contemporary art and the world of plants, Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth, 1999
LifeScience, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria 1999

Related Opportunities

Call for Participation: Making Life - a research platform for art and synthetic biology - Finnish Society of Bio-Art
, the International Synthetic Biology Science, Art and Film Festival series is calling for submissions. It features short films on any aspect of synthetic biology, including documentary films, animation, (science) fiction etc. The first festival was held in Vienna, Austria, in 2011. The Second Bio-fiction Festival will take place from 23 - 25 October, 2014. The Venue will again be the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria.
, at the University of Western Australia, is an artistic laboratory dedicated to the research, learning, critique and hands-on engagement with the life sciences. Apply for a residency.
Parco Arte Vivente "Park of Living Art"in Turin, Italy. An outdoor exhibition center, an interactive museum and a center of research interested in the dialogue between contemporary art, science, nature, biotechnologies and ecology.

Iris Meier | Department of Molecular Genetics | The Ohio State University

Amy Youngs | Art & Technology | Department of Art | The Ohio State University