The Table and the Tubes

Jan-Erik Andersson and researcher Tan Phat Huynh with assistance of researcher Anna Fogde, 2021. Table, exhibited and in use in cafés. First café: Lilla Fabbes, Piispankatu 14, Turku. 

This project is a part of Avtryck i det Okända – Forcing the Impossible, a multidisciplinary research project led by post-doctoral researcher Laura Hellsten where science and art are combined in order to explore science communication. Within the frames of the project, cutting-edge researchers at Åbo Akademi University meet artists. The scientists get to practice communicating their research outside of the scientific community, and the artists get to interpret and illustrate what they see/hear/touch, using their respective media.

The Table and the Tubes include a table/sculpture, intended to be on display in normal commercial cafés, made by me, and a chemical garden presented in a vase on the table by Dr Tan Phat Huynh and doctoral student Anna Fogde.

For me, the question of what life is, what is “alive” has always been of key interest. Now when AI (Artificial Intelligence) is questioning the uniqueness of the human “mind”, also the origin of life and the border between non-living and living have been questioned. Some researchers talk about “inorganic biology” when they are trying to create self-replicating, evolving inorganic cells, which even can store electricity, just in the same way as organic, biological, carbon-based cells do. In the words of Albert Szent-Gyorgi: “Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest.”

It was fascinating to take a first look at the Chemical Gardens created by Phat and Anna to discover the visual beauty of the inorganic, growing structures. I thought a lot about how to approach this challenge. I didn’t want to make an illustration of the Chemical Gardens using art. Likewise it was very hard to make some kind of interpretation of the Chemical Gardens because of the difficulty and abstraction of the underlying chemistry. Instead, I chose to make a presentation of the Gardens, or in this case one garden. My aim was to somehow uplift the beauty of the garden and put it on a platform, in this case a table, which also creates a place where communication takes place.

I have a long-lasting interest in the communication aspects of a table. I also thought that it would be great if people would accidentally stumble on our project, as would be the case if the table would be placed in a normal commercial café and be in use there. In the centre of the table a cylinder made of glass, would hold the Chemical Garden.

The rough concrete would be a demanding surface for the café visitor, who would have to search for a safe (plain!) place to put down the cup. A kind of symbol for the uncertainty we all feel at the moment concerning the future of the organic life on our planet.

The last four pictures by Pekko Vasantola