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Culture in Mendel’s Garden by Ellen K. Levy

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The relationship between science and art is a theme in the work of Ellen K. Levy, who has spent time in the studio and the laboratory. Her experience doing biomedical research while in graduate school for art has informed and inspired paintings like Culture in Mendel's Garden (below).

Reading about experiments involving firefly genes (luciferase) inspired Levy's painting. "The bioluminescence was evidently a way to track illnesses without needing to perform invasive surgery," says Levy. "A mouse model was used in the experiment that I read about (and is in the painting)."

Culture in Mendel's Garden (producing luciferase for a beating heart), 1999. Oil on wood. The oil painting is in the collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut.
(Left) Culture in Mendel's Garden (producing luciferase for a beating heart), 1999. Collage with bacterial culture. (Right) Study for the collage Culture in Mendel's Garden (producing luciferase for a beating heart), 1999.
Outnumbered 1 and 2, 2000. Drawing, Iris print. Installation shot of Foreign Bodies Exhibition at Untitled (Space) Gallery, New Haven, Oct. 21-Dec. 2, 2000.

More recent works such as Outnumbered 1 and 2 expand the biological theme while exploring new art techniques. "In Outnumbered I portray bacteria in different contexts. Bacteria grown in petri dishes were photographed, scanned, digitally manipulated, transferred onto paper and further manipulated," Levy explains. "Then I applied generative growth algorithms that caused the image to proliferate further. When happy with the results, I fixed the image on the computer."

Levy teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and her works have been featured by galleries worldwide. For an interview with the artist visit

Birgit Reinert

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Ellen K. Levy, ed., "Contemporary Art and the Genetic Code," special issue of Art Journal 55, (Spring 1996) with B. Sichel.
Ellen Levy, "The Genome and Art: Finding Potential in Unlikely Places," Leonardo 34, 2001.

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