The Science Center / Esther Klein Gallery, Philadelphia

Rebecca Rutstein: Socius, August 5- Sept 29, 2021, Opening Reception: Thurs Aug 5th, 5-7:30pm; Closing Reception w/live performance: Wed Sept 29th, 5-7:30pm

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo: Jaime Alvarez Photography

Photo by Allyson Yu

This exhibition presents the culmination of Rutstein’s three month Art Residency at the biotechnology company Integral Molecular in early 2021. Her work takes a micro and macro approach to observing the spread of Covid-19, both on a cellular level and in the community at large. Through large scale paintings, works on paper and an immersive sculpture, light and sound installation, Rutstein focuses on microscopic views of cellular networks, as well as public Covid-19 datasets from the Philadelphia community and beyond, documenting vaccine efficacy and racial inequities in access to health care.

This exhibition was made possible through generous funding from the Edna Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation.

Cell to Cell… Body to Body
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 living cells in the lab to fluoresce with GFP when the particle enters the cells.

Rutstein captured microscopic views of the virus infecting living cells through Integral’s RVP technology. These views through the microscope also shed light on the intricate networks that living cells create – reaching out with filopodia (like antennae) to probe their environment and signal, communicate and connect with each other, forming “micro-societies”. Small and large paintings and works on paper explore these themes.

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 large-scale paintings explore these datasets.

An Immersive Sculpture, Light & Sound Installation
Sub Surficiem is a powder coated steel, backlit sculptural installation inspired by microscopic observations of cells during the artist’s 3-month residency at biotechnology company Integral Molecular in Philadelphia. The installation incorporates LED lights programmed to simulate light patterns taken from a 60-hour time lapse video of living cells fluorescing under the microscope as they become infected with SARS-CoV-2. Using fluorescence, Integral Molecular’s “Reporter Virus Particle” (RVP) technology allows us to visualize human cells being infected upon interactions of viral spike proteins with receptors on the cell surface, and have been a tool for discovering protective antibodies that neutralize the virus.

Confluence is a 5-minute sonic journey accompanying Sub Surficiem. It is a sonification of data tracking the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations in the city of Philadelphia from March 2020 through May 2021 (all data was obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Health). Each of these data sets was sonified as a separate track and layered, following the rise and fall of cases and deaths, and later, the introduction of the vaccine. The sonified data which uses digital renderings of stringed instruments including bass, cello, viola and violin (developed by the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music in France) was produced 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, Philly-based musician, Frank Masciocchi, also a lab intstrumentation engineer at Integral Molecular, contributed recorded tracks of interpretive, percussive guitar that create ambient dissonance and distortion throughout the piece.

Tonal framework for this piece was carefully considered. Confluence begins with sonorities that are somber and 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 traces of loss, remembrance and uncertainty in the final moments.

This immersive, multi-media installation takes the viewer through a micro lens while “listening” to the macrodata of the Philadelphia community, reflecting on the positive impact of COVID-19 vaccines on stopping the spread of the virus, while acknowledging the anxiety that remains as new variants emerge and many remain unvaccinated.

For more information: https://sciencecenter.org/news/the-science-centers-esther-klein-gallery-reopens-with-exhibit-exploring-the-effects-of-sars-cov-2-and-covid-19