Tennessee artist Carla Ciuffo is entwining art and science with the tiniest of threads: the nanofiber. Her work, the culmination of a two-year stint with Harvard’s Disease Biophysics Group, is on display at a new exhibition in Nashville.
Nano.Stasis Cosmic Garden is being shown at Tinney Contemporary from August 26 through September 30, with an opening reception being held on September 2.
As a visiting artist at Harvard, Ciuffo explored the small, beautiful world of nanofibers in the lab of Kevin “Kit” Parker, PhD, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics and also a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“I’m the first layperson to actually work in Kit’s lab, experimenting with the fiber. It’s been a meditative, frustrating, visually compelling, and mostly thrilling experience,” she states on her website. Through trial and error, Ciuffo was eventually able to use the researchers’ techniques to produce tiny nanofiber “canvases.”
Nanofibers are fibers with a diameter or thickness measured in — as the name suggests — nanometers, with one nanometer equaling one-billionth of a meter. Their applications seem nearly endless, ranging from use in tissue engineering, sensors, and drug delivery to even clothing and bullet-resistant materials.
“Much of my imagery uses tiny figures in a large negative space, so nanofiber at that level seemed very appealing,” Ciuffo said in an article in the Tennessean. “And these ephemeral strands of angel hair were very appealing to the child in me. And then I learned that this fiber loves us — it loves our skin, it loves our cells. It binds to us, and promotes healing. How fantastic is that?”
Parker’s Disease Biophysics Group developed a method called rotary jet spinning (RJS) to produce nanofibers, intended to improve upon current methods such as electrospinning. RJS works like a cotton candy machine — but with a liquid polymer solution instead of liquified sugar. The spinning action pushes the solution out through small holes and the solvent evaporates, leaving solid, thin fibers.
After experimenting with the technology and the solution, Ciuffo was eventually able to create the small nanofiber canvases. She then zoomed in on parts of the canvases, gathering images with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The result is a collection of “large- and small-format acrylic artworks that illustrate the fiber’s unique strength and its ephemeral beauty,” the gallery wrote in its description.
The current exhibition also pulls from Ciuffo’s previous work in “Stasis,” which focused on “in-between” moments or states, and it will feature video of her in the lab, according to the Tennessean.
“I hope viewers realize the enormity and beauty of the fiber’s universe and how the collaboration between artists and scientists is a powerful exchange that produces creative thinking on both sides,” she said in the article.