From January through March, 2021, Rutstein was an artist-in-residence at Integral Molecular, a biotechnology company at the UC Science Center in Philadelphia. 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 cell.
During her residency period, Rutstein worked closely with scientists in the lab, observing human cells and RVP interactions under the microscope, and creating responsive paintings on paper. Over another six month period, she created a larger body of paintings and a sculptural installation for a solo exhibition at the Science Center’s Esther Klein Gallery. This exhibition, the culmination of Rutstein’s three month art residency, took 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 focused 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.
The Science Center and Integral Molecular launched the BioArt Residency as an unparalleled artist-in-residence experience, enabling artists to immerse themselves in a laboratory environment and explore the complexities of scientific research. The artists’ creative interpretations serve to engage broader audiences and stimulate meaningful dialogue and awareness. The BioArt Residency serves to improve the understanding of science and technology, foster a creative dialogue between artists and scientists, and create a direct positive impact on human health.
This art residency and exhibition were made possible through generous funding from the Edna Andrade Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation.
To learn more and view the exhibition: https://rebeccarutstein.com/exhibitions/the-science-center/