Winter 2010: Of Note

Dancers on stage with double helix

Double VISION: Lelavision was one of several artists who interpreted evolution creatively.

Courtesy Lelavision

Evolving Arts

Taking scientific investigation out of the lab and onto the stage

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By Mary J. Loftus

Two dramatically lit dancers twirl on a spiraling DNA sculpture, creating a living double helix, while the audience strives to become a more complex organism in an interactive performance at the Schwartz Center Lab Theater.

Paintings of tube worms wearing jeweled necklaces, panoramic nanoscapes captured by electron microscope, and rare first editions of Charles Darwin’s books are on display at the Woodruff Library’s Schatten Gallery.

And playing to full houses at the DUC’s Mary Gray Munroe theater is Hominid, a modern-day Macbeth—complete with betrayal, murder, and madness—that unfolds with a twist: the Theater Emory actors are recreating a true story documented by primatologist Frans de Waal in his book Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes.

Emory celebrated the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth by hosting exhibitions and performances of art, music, plays, literature, and other endeavors with themes of origin, creation, and evolution in multiple locations across campus (replication: a plus in evolutionary biology).

Many of these exhibitions coincided with the Evolution of Brain, Mind, and Culture conference at Emory in November, which brought together nine of the world’s leading scholars of evolution. Award-winning British science writer Matt Ridley, author of The Origins of Virtue and Nature via Nurture, gave the keynote, “Darwin in Genes and Culture.” Some of the questions the experts took on: How does growing from a child into an adult shape the evolution of our minds? What are the origins of empathy, fairness, and cooperation?

Candler Professor of Chemistry and Biology David Lynn has concluded that art and evolution have a lot in common: “Complex structures of biology seem remarkably, almost magically, to self-assemble.”

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