Using the visual metaphor of a coral reef, artist Rogan Brown introduces his audience to the diverse bacteria, archaea, fungi found in the human body through paper-based sculptures.
The detailed works are created following months of research, in which Brown hunts for aesthetic parallels between the various microorganisms and organic formations such as cell structures, microbes, shells and fossils.
“What the reef and the microbiome have in common is that they both consist of biodiverse colonies of organisms that coexist more or less harmoniously. There are further parallels between coral and human beings in that we are both symbiont organisms, that is we depend on a mutually beneficial relationship with another species: coral only receive their beautiful colors from varieties of algae that live on them and human beings can only exist thanks to the unimaginably huge and diverse number of bacteria that live in and on them.”
Brown starts each construction by sketching detailed designs and then mocking them up in larger pen and ink drawings. Then he begins to think in 3-D. Each structure is composed of layers of paper, which are stacked using foam board spacers. This floating effect allows him to build a complex colony of organisms that appear to grow beyond the confines of their housing.
Rogan either laser-cuts or painstakingly hand-cuts paper components with a scalpel knife, meaning that some of his larger works can take months to complete. “The slow act of cutting repeat[s] the long time-based processes that dominate nature: growth, decay and re-growth,” says Rogan.
Brown hopes that his intricate paper sculptures will allow his audience to more greatly conceptualize the bacteria-based landscape of the human body. “We live in a world dominated by science,” Brown says. “Art needs to work hard to keep up or use the language and imagery of science for its own ends.”