Socius - Rebecca Rutstein

Page 1




REBECCA RUTSTEIN August 5 5 —– September 29, 2021 August September 24, 2021


REBECCA RUTSTEIN August 5 5 —– September 29, 2021 August September 24, 2021 Esther Klein Gallery (EKG) 3600 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19104

Permeate, 2021, Acrylic and flashe on canvas, 60” x 60”

Socius: Latin word used to describe “bond” or “interaction”. Gave rise to the word “Societas”- Society.

Biotech company Integral Molecular develops tools for antibody research for diseases and viruses, and pivoted their research in early 2020 to address the threat of SARS-CoV-2. One of their innovative lab technologies, “Reporter Virus Particles” (RVPs), simulate how viral spike proteins enter and infect cells by binding to cell membrane receptors, and are a tool to learn how protective antibodies can bind to these spike proteins and “neutralize” the virus. Integral Molecular scientists engineer spike proteins of different coronavirus variants and insert them into the outer membrane of each RVP. The RVP looks like the virus on the surface but does not carry the viral genome inside ­— instead it carries Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) derived from jellyfish, which causes l iving cells in the lab to fluoresce with GFP when the particle enters the cells.

FROM THE CURATOR In 2021, we celebrate our fifth year of the University City Science Center’s BioArt Residency Program in collaboration with the biotechnology company Integral Molecular. Since 2017, through our unique partnership, we have had the opportunity to recruit artists with an interest in biotechnology to spend a three month-period alongside scientists, performing creative interdisciplinary research relating to the most pressing topics in healthcare today. Rebecca Rutstein’s residency couldn’t have happened at a less opportune moment—during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of winter, when the entire world was in quarantine and the primary mode of communication was through video conferencing. Despite the many obstacles, Rebecca not only found ways to collaborate remotely with the Integral Molecular staff, but also visited the laboratory frequently in-person while observing strict public safety protocols. This residency was a challenging one to say the least, but Rebecca seized the moment to create an entire solo exhibition documenting this unprecedented time with brand new work culminating from her research. From the very beginning, it was clear that Rebecca wanted to focus on health inequities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was, and is still, one of the most pressing issues of today on both a local and global scale. This proved to be a complicated task — first to determine the best source of data and angle of her subject matter, and next to execute an ambitious artistic multimedia installation project and involving multiple collaborators in a matter of months. It was a pleasure to watch Rebecca in action. She is one of the most prolific artists that I have worked with, and it was exciting to see her step out of her comfort zone by presenting this data-driven exhibition, with an eye-opening message and a call to action. I hope that viewers walk away with the knowledge that continued action must be taken in order to create an equitable health care system for all. Additionally, I hope this exhibition leaves people with a greater appreciation for the importance of the work that scientists perform on a daily basis to save lives and fight this uphill battle. Together, through information, education and creativity, we can make a difference. Angela McQuillan Curator - Esther Klein Gallery

Socius, Installation view. Photo: Jaime Alvarez


In the exhibition Socius, Rebecca Rutstein examines virus as source, visually exploring bonds that connect to this tenuous time of outbreak and reckoning. Through paint, light and sound, the artist depicts disparity and disease with clarity and control amidst an on-going pandemic. The surprising –and abounding– beauty in this work comes from deep and thorough observation of subjects that might otherwise spark fear or avoidance. During her three-month residency at biotechnology company Integral Molecular, Rutstein worked alongside scientists observing SARS-CoV-2 using their unique Reporter Virus Particle (RVP) technology. Through this advanced process, designed to illuminate viral infection via bioluminescence, she witnessed complex communities of living cells. Translating the glowing viral choreography into luminous paintings, Rutstein creates densely packed compositions filled with structured movement. They teem with life, in stark –and purposeful– contrast to the crisp edged grid paintings in which she analyzes the same virus through data and demographics. In a shift from micro to macro, two large scale canvases depict the human cost of systemic racism. ‘Counted’ maps nationwide COVID-19 deaths by race in a range of red, white and blue squares. The pixelated canvas makes tangible the fact that this pandemic is killing

people of color at higher rates. By contrast, ‘Trust’ depicts percentages of vaccinated adults by race in the U.S., underscoring that whites are the most vaccinated group. Upended by the scope of the disparity, the formalist grid structure subverts abstraction and becomes highly representational. Although Rebecca Rutstein has incorporated science and technology into her work for years, this exhibition marks the first time she has specifically confronted the body and disease. Like the SARS-CoV-2 virus it references, this new undertaking is both intimate and immense in scale. Socius features seventeen paintings and an immersive light-sound sculpture – all of which were created in 2021. Working with scientists of Integral Molecular, the artist gathered a variety of source material, including a 60-hour time lapse video of living cells fluorescing as they become infected with the virus. This time lapse, created by scientist Tabb Sullivan, is the inspiration behind the exhibition’s entrancing sculpture, Sub Surficiem. In the darkened back room of the gallery, Sub Surficiem fills a white wall with slowly spreading light, mutating color seeping through a perforated design of organic, cell-like clusters. Formatted as a panorama, the flat metallic sculpture is backlit by programmed LED lights emulating the progression of the virus over time. A

central bench allows viewers to take in the ambient experience in a passive state, watching as the virus takes hold, a mesmerizing and deadly glow. The accompanying score, entitled Confluence, resonates with deep and somber tones. Over the course of five minutes, the atmospheric sound shifts along with the lights. As the time-lapse reverses, new data articulations introduce the vaccine neutralizing the spread. Harmony is restored, if only until the process

repeats. The experience is meditative and moving, as it melodically cycles through hope and despair. The score of Sub Surficiem consists of data sonified by the California-based, Mexican composer, Mauricio Rodriguez, who translated Philadelphia’s COVID-19 datasets into digital renderings of stringed instruments. Additional tracks use tactile instrumentation –recorded, percussive guitar– and

Together, Socius, Trust. Photo: Jaime Alvarez

feature Philly-based musician, Frank Masciocchi, who is also a lab engineer at Integral Molecular. Confluence embodies a holistic use of resources, calling on an expanded community to contribute in multiple, unexpected ways. Merging the digital and physical in collective experimentation, this orchestrated effort reflects a shared methodology of scientific and creative collaboration. Rebecca Rutstein’s responsive research with Integral Molecular examines COVID-19 from a variety of viewpoints. Switching from the eyepiece of the microscope to the birds’ eye view of public health data, the artist examines the cellular and societal framework, allowing and then denying emotional distance. The title of the exhibition, Socius, encapsulates this dichotomy. Its capitalization is reminiscent of the SARSCoV-2 virus itself –the all-caps urgency of the

pandemic– while the root word has taxonomical and scientific implications. The artist defines socius as the Latin word used to describe “bond” or “interaction” at the root of society. Socius can also connote the Deluezian theory of embodied production, where social control is maintained through individual tracking. Through this lens, Rutstein’s use of COVID-19 data hints at both the obligations and costs of citizenry. Visualizing the statistics tied to systemic racism and its deadly consequences, her large-scale paintings underscore that socius also translates as “ally.” Despite the seriousness of its subject, Socius remains a hopeful body of work. It is a continuation of Rebecca Rutstein’s long line of creative research connecting science to its human counterparts with a deeply examined reverence for the natural world. ■

Trust, 2021, Acrylic & Flashe on Canvas, 60 x 60”

Counted, 2021, Acrylic and Flashe on Wood Panel, 60 x 60”

Trust tracks vaccination demographics by race/ethnicity as reported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention through June 27, 2021, and indicates the highest percentage of vaccinated US adults are white. While these percentages follow overall population percentages by race, the largest gaps between percentage of total population and percentage vaccinated are seen in Black and Hispanic groups. This data highlights systemic inequities in health care access and vaccine distribution as well as vaccine hesitancy due to mistrust from historic racism in medical research.

Counted tracks the nationwide number of deaths by race from COVID-19 per 100,000 people, dating from January 2020 to March 7, 2021. This data was collected by The COVID Racial Data Tracker (a partnership between the COVID Tracking Project and the Center for Antiracist Research). The findings underscore that COVID-19 is affecting Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color the most. Black people were 1.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people during this time period. – Black or African American: 178 (shown in white) American Indian or Alaskan Native: 172 (navy) Hispanic or Latino: 154 (light blue gray) Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 144 (orange) White: 124 (dark turquoise) Other: 97 (light aqua) Asian: 95 (light orange)

Black or African American: 8.6% (shown in white) American Indian or Alaskan Native: 1% (navy) Hispanic or Latino: 12.6% (light blue gray) White: 62% (dark turquoise) Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: .3% (orange) Other: 7.9% (light aqua)

Asian: 5.9 (light orange)

CELL TO CELL... BODY TO BODY On a macro level, Rutstein worked with data that tracked the number of Covid-19 infections, deaths and vaccination rates in the Philadelphia community and beyond, paying particular attention to racial inequities. The data used in this project was collected by various sources including the CDC, The COVID Racial Data Tracker (a partnership between the COVID Tracking Project and the Center for Antiracist Research), and the PA Department of Health. The findings from the COVID Racial Data Tracker from January 2020 to March 2021 (when data stopped being recorded on the site), underscore what has been widely reported: that nationwide, COVID-19 is affecting Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color the most, and Blacks were 1.4 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than Whites. The current vaccination rates listed by the CDC show the highest percentage of vaccinated adults by race are White, which highlights inequities in health care access as well as vaccine hesitancy among people of color, where trust is lower due to historic racism in health care. Two largescale paintings explore these datasets.

Together, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 60”x 60”

Socius, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 60”x 60”

States Series 1. States XII, 2021, acrylic & flashe on 18” round wood panel 2. States VIII, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 18x18” plus frame 3. States III, 2021, acrylic, flashe & ink on paper, 12x12” plus frame 4. States V, 2021, acrylic & ink on paper, 12x12” plus frame 5. States I, 2021, acrylic, flashe & ink on paper, 12x12” plus frame 6. States XI, 2021, acrylic on 18” round wood panel, 2021 7. States II, 2021, acrylic & flashe on paper, 12x12” plus frame 8. States X, 2021, acrylic & flashe on canvas, 18x18” plus frame 9. States XIII, 2021, acrylic on paper, 12x12” plus frame 10. States VI, 2021, acrylic & flashe on canvas, 18x18” plus frame 11. States VII, 2021, acrylic on paper, 12x12” plus frame 12. States IX, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 18x18” plus frame

4 1 2 5



8 12 7

11 10 9

Rebecca Rutstein standing in front of her Sub Surficiem installation. Photo by Allyson Yu.

AN IMMERSIVE LIGHT AND SOUND INSTALLATION Sub Surficiem is a powder coated steel, backlit sculptural installation inspired by forms of living cells observed through the microscope during Rutstein’s residency at Integral Molecular. The installation incorporates LED lights programmed to simulate light patterns, taken from a 60-hour time lapse video of living cells fluorescing as they become infected with SARS-CoV-2 through Integral’s innovative RVP technology. This time lapse was created by scientist Tabb Sullivan, and shows cells progressively fluorescing until the entire piece glows. The time lapse is then reversed, simulating the effect that targeted antibodies have on stopping the virus until all light fades from the piece. Confluence is a 5-minute sonic journey accompanying Sub Surficiem. It is a sonification of data tracking the aggregate number of Covid-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations in Philadelphia County from January 2020 through May 2021. Each of these data sets was sonified as a separate track and then layered, following the rise and fall of Covid cases and deaths for a full year before the introduction of the vaccine in January 2021. The piece, which uses digital renderings of stringed instruments including bass, cello, viola and violin (developed by IRCAM, Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music in France) was created through the artistry of Mexican composer Mauricio Rodriguez, NEA fellow and Doctor of Musical Composition from Stanford University, who generously collaborated on this project. Additionally, Philadelphia-based musician, Frank Masciocchi, who is part of the Integral Molecular team, contributed to the piece with interpretive, percussive guitar sounds that create an ambient dissonance to the piece. Tonal framework for this piece was carefully considered. Confluence begins with sonorities that are somber and somewhat uncertain - a reflection of the collective fear at the beginning stages of the pandemic, and gradually those blurry sound masses become self-reflective, brighter, and more optimistic later in the piece, when the vaccine is introduced. The sonification of cases and deaths fall away as the higher pitched tones of vaccinations continue to rise. Nevertheless, there are inevitable traces of ‘loss’ and ‘remembrance’ in the final moments even as the overall feeling aims to resonate as uplifting as possible. This multi-media installation situates the viewer through a visual microscopic lens to “listen” to the macro data of our Philadelphia community, creating an immersive experience, reflecting on the positive impact of Covid-19 vaccines on stopping the spread of the virus, while acknowledging the undertone of uncertainty that remains as new variants emerge and many are yet to be vaccinated.

Sub Surficiem, 2021, Powder coated steel, LED programmed lights, 35” x 96” x 2”. Photo: Jaime Alvarez

MUSICAL COLLABORATION Confluence sound installation was created in collaboration with Mexican composer and musician, Mauricio Rodriguez, and Philly-based musician and scientist, Frank Masciocchi. Mauricio Rodriguez’ music finds its expression in a fluid transition between archetype sonorities and the most experimental acoustic art. His music creates a multimodal space often intricate and abstract, however viscerally vivid as an experience. Rodriguez is an NEA fellow and has a Doctor of Musical Composition from Stanford University. He earned a master’s in Sonology at the Royal Conservatory Den Haag Netherlands, and a bachelor in composition, piano and ethnomusicology at University of Mexico. He has been artist in residence at Arteles Creative Center (Finland), University of California Santa Cruz, International Centre for Composers (Sweden), Xenakis Centre France, Royaumont Foundation, and Superior Institute of Art Havana Cuba. Frank Masciocchi is the Lab Instrumentation Engineer at Integral Molecular where he’s responsible for maintaining their lab equipment. He is also a musician who enjoys creating noisy guitar driven pop songs.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Confluence sound installation was created in collaboration with Mexican composer, Mauricio Rodriguez, NEA fellow and Doctor of Musical Composition from Stanford University, and Philly-based musician and scientist, Frank Masciocchi, a member of the Integral Molecular team. Sub-Surficiem LED light programming was created with the support of fabricator Kate Kaman at Phila Fab. Special thanks to Angela McQuillan, Program Manager and Experience Designer at the University City Science Center, and Ben Doranz, President and CEO of Integral Molecular. Many thanks to the following scientists and staff at Integral Molecular for their invaluable guidance and support during Rutstein’s residency: Hayley Crawford Tabb Sullivan Joe Stafford Paige Murphy Joe Rucker Edgar Davidson Soma Banik Leila Abuelhawa Nolan Fox Krista Tobin

Special thanks to the musicians of the Pennsylvania Philharmonic and Executive Director Scott Robinson for the premiere performance of Confluence at the closing reception of Socius. This remarkable work by Mauricio Rodriguez in collaboration with Rebecca Rutstein and among the musicians helps tell the story of the pandemic and human resilience beyond our current circumstances. Brent Edmondson (Bass) Chi Park Edmondson (Violin) Devree Lewis (Cello) Nina Vieru (Violin) Renee Warnick (Viola) Additional thanks to: Nick Bonneau, Lecturer in the History of Science and Public Health, University of Maryland Jane Boyd, Historical Curator for the “Spit Spreads Death” exhibit at the Mutter Museum, Philadelphia Jason Diaz, Assistant Professor, Integrated Science, Business, and Technology Program, La Salle University Sean Stoops & Allyson Yu for installation assistance Bridgette Mayer Gallery This exhibition was made possible through the generous funding of the Edna Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation


Rebecca Rutstein. Photo: Rebecca McAlpin Photography

Multidisciplinary artist Rebecca Rutstein works at the intersection of art, science and technology. For over twenty years she has created painting, sculpture, interactive installation and public art inspired by geology, microbiology and marine science, and has joined scientists on several expeditions exploring the deep sea. Rutstein is passionate about creating visual and immersive experiences that connect the viewer with hidden environments, deepening their connection with the natural world. Her collaborations have been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Academies of Science / Keck Futures Initiative, Ocean Exploration Trust, Schmidt Ocean Institute and the Edna Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation. She has received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Independence Foundation Fellowship, PA Council on the Arts grant, is an MIT Ocean Discovery Fellow, and was recently named the Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding at the University of Georgia. Rutstein’s work can be found in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Georgia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum, Yale University, University of New Mexico and the US Department of State. She has been represented by Bridgette Mayer Gallery in Philadelphia since 2001, as well as Sherry Leedy Contemporary (Kansas City) and Space Gallery (Denver).


The Esther Klein Gallery (EKG), which opened in 1977, uses the creative arts as a platform to explore relationships between art, science and technology. EKG seeks to positively impact the cultural life of both its immediate neighborhood of West Philadelphia and the broader Philadelphia community. EKG programming is designed to explore the range of art, science and technology exhibitions, and includes gallery talks, panel discussions, and education programs.


Established in 1963, the Science Center is a mission-driven nonprofit that commercializes promising technology, cultivates talent, and convenes people to inspire action. With partnerships across top academic and research institutions, industry, and healthcare systems, the Science Center is helping lifesaving technologies transition from bench to bedside and nurturing a workforce that supports a 21st century economy.


Integral Molecular is the industry leader in discovering and characterizing therapeutic antibodies against membrane proteins, an important group of drug targets found on the surfaces of cells and viruses. Integral Molecular’s technologies have been integrated into the drug discovery pipelines of over 400 biotech and pharmaceutical companies to help discover new therapies for cancer, diabetes, auto-immune disorders and viral threats such as SARS-CoV-2, Ebola, Zika, and dengue viruses.