My main inspiration is science – my love and fascination for the natural world underpins all my artwork.
Pollyanna Burnet-Harris is studying BSc (Hons) Biology with Professional Placement at the University of Bath and has been awarded an Arts Scholarship for 2019-20. Pollyanna shares how she fuses arts and science in her sculptural practice, and what she’s working on ahead of Platform, the annual arts scholarship showcase.
What is your background in your chosen art form?
I started sculpting five years ago as an option in my study of fine art at school as I wanted to explore different art forms and new techniques. I instantly fell in love with sculpture as it gave me limitless freedom; I wasn’t confined to two dimensions. It became a fundamental part of my education whilst I cultured my love of art history, literature and philosophy through the polymathic nature of sculpture. Most importantly, I could nurture my scientific interests and celebrate the beauty and complexity of the natural world. Since my scientific curiosity is so broad, I was able to develop all my areas of fascination through one central medium. I achieved a high A* grade in my Fine Art A-Level, and was awarded the Major Rickerby Art Prize by my school.
What are you enjoying about the scholar programme so far?
I really value the opportunities to meet other scholars from different art forms, whether that’s music, theatre or visual arts. This has broadened my mind in terms of collaborative work across the arts, which has led to some very exciting prospects for Platform. The scholarship programme has also allowed me to have total autonomy and freedom in my work, as I feel that I can be ambitious but still have full support of all the scholars and the team. All the other scholars are so talented in their respective fields and I thoroughly enjoy hearing about their work and interests; I think we can all learn a lot from each other.
Have you found any collaborative opportunities to work with the other scholars so far? If so, tell us a bit about your project/ideas.
I am really excited to work on 3 potential collaborations with other scholars which we have discussed and are all very passionate about. I have researched the effect of sound on microbial growth and there is some very interesting literature about this topic, which has inspired me to work with musical scholar, Andrés López Moreno, on a project which marries the two disciplines of music and science. We have discussed the idea of taking Bach down to the level of bacteria, to a point where we can link individual notes to patterns of growth using live music and slow-motion video. Another collaboration that is forming is with a group of musicians (Andrés, Anthony Maffei, Will Morris, Christian Goodall) involving the theme of push and pull. An operatic piece they are working on has inspired a link between conflict represented in music and theatre with conflict in the natural world, especially at the microbiological level. I am in the process of trying a new technique called mocha diffusion to represent microbial growth, and I think this method could yield some beautiful results in the abstract presentation of biological phenomena which ties in seamlessly with opera. Finally, I have been discussing a project with dance scholars Jeannette Khoo and Elena Gomez Ochoa, which seeks to represent the battle of antibiotic resistance through dance and movement. I am interested in pursuing the technique of agar art in this collaboration to explore the newest artistic methods in the area of bioart.
Do you find any links between your creativity and your course?
My main inspiration is science – my love and fascination for the natural world underpins all my artwork. Learning about antibiotic resistance and the practical work we have done in the lab has inspired my latest ideas for projects. When I received agar plates, on which I streaked bacterial culture a week earlier, they were suddenly covered in colonies of different colours and morphologies. I am always stunned by the beauty of microbial growth and its paradoxical nature. I am very interested in development and our recent lectures on embryology have further nurtured this curiosity. I have previously explored this area in my sculpture but I wish to continue this pursuit. My main area of interest, evolutionary biology, always inspires my art. I think this cruel and somewhat macabre master of the natural world is somehow stunning and incredibly fascinating. Exploring my passion through an artistic medium makes my love grow and encourages me to pursue a career in this field.
What/Who inspires, influences or drives you?
I take inspiration from abstract artists, such as Maria Bartuszová and Piet Mondrian, who appreciate the fundamental forces governing nature in their art, such as pressure and balance. Moreover, biomorphism greatly influences my work – artists such as Henry Moore have shaped my style and techniques in how I depict biological concepts and phenomena creatively. Symbolism also has an important role in my style, as I always try to create layers in my artwork, with clandestine meaning that requires some interpretation from the viewer. I believe that art should not be solely aesthetically pleasing, but educate, and require some personal analysis. I often intend to reveal to the viewer something about themselves that they had not previously realised. This is where my interest in psychology informs my artwork, since I can use Freudian theories to peeling back the pall from the viewer’s subconscious, and showing them what they truly think and how they truly feel. In this respect, I greatly appreciate the work of artists such as Emil Alzamora and Salvador Dalí for their success in creating an elegant and profound suggestion of metaphor. Although I take inspiration from some movements and styles, I find that my main muse is the science itself. Having read much academic literature around biology and other areas, I am inspired by the incredible research and intelligence that contributes to our understanding of the world in which we live.
Do you have any other creative pursuits?
I have always loved literature from a young age and recently I have been leaning towards the prospect of a career in scientific writing. I find writing very enjoyable, especially about an interest of mine, and I am now tempted by the idea of popular science writing or science journalism after my degree or further study.