LEWISBURG — The classification of a sexual fluid tomato in Australia by Bucknell University biology professor Chris Martine two years ago has landed the scientist and some of his students in an art exhibition that will be available online for public viewing Wednesday.
Maine artist Erin Johnson reached out to Martine after reading about the bush tomato that he described as "not stable in the way it expressed itself sexually" that he named Solanum plastisexum after it had gone unnamed for four decades to discuss incorporating his work in a new exhibit entitled Unnamed for Decades.
Johnson is an artist whose work explores the "wide-ranging consequences of scientific research as well as dissidence, desire and the queer body," according to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art website.
For two days in February, Johnson and cinematographer Kanthy Peng worked on campus with Martine and students Ariel Antoine, Cheyenne Moore and Burpee Postdoctoral Fellow Tanisha Williams.
"She mostly interviewed us about our research work with plants," said Martine who added the experience also included "some more far-out" aspects than what the scientists are accustomed to.
For a portion of the exhibition, Johnson filmed Martine and the students walking around the Rooke Greenhouse lyrically repeating lines from the research paper on the Solanum plastisexum.
Martine said he's pleased to participate in projects such as Johnson's art piece because it helps expose more people to the work of science.
"I like to engage in different ways to make science accessible to people," he said. "The exhibition is beautiful, but definitely outside the box."
Moore said she joined Martine's lab to learn more about science communication and during her two years at Bucknell found herself being nudged out of her comfort zone.
"I'd have to say that Erin's piece was the furthest out of that comfort zone I got, but it was a great experience," she said. "Seeing the finished product gave me a new appreciation for the unique science communication opportunities that the intersection of science and art can create."
Initially reticent, Williams warmed to the project as she spoke with Johnson about plants and people's connection to them.
"It was a wonderful experience to work with someone so excited about plants like I am," she said. "It felt great being part of a body of work that wanted to tell the story of plants and people."
A virtual exhibition opening featuring the video will be available online at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at https://cmcanow.org/event/erin-johnson/