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96 Variations on a Phylogenetic Tree

Posted on October 14, 2020 at 4:00 PM by Sydney Marshall

When I first visited this large public work of art created by Ball-Nogues Studio, I had fairly limited information about what this installation was about. It's titled 96 Variations on a Phylogenetic Tree and was installed in 2018 in Bessey Hall.  l knew that the goal of the installation was to communicate about research within the biology department, as well as to visually represent the inter-relatedness of life. After spending some time with the installation and going up and down the four flights of stairs in Bessey Hall, the branching multicolored strands organized visually into diverging paths, I began to understand the design referencing the Phylogenetic Tree.

Similar to this representation of the evolutionary journey of organisms, these individual strands group together and diverge, creating forks in the timeline of the history of life. Inside Bessey Hall, as you descend towards the ground floor, you are moving backwards in time towards the original common ancestor. Looking closely at this artful phylogenetic tree, the colored strands are made up of thousands of individual beads. These multi-colored ball chain strands are over 5.5 miles long, painted to represent the three domains of life - Eubacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryota.

Whether or not the viewer is reminded of the literal phylogenetic tree as printed in Biology textbooks, the installation is a beautiful visual representation of countless individual beings interacting and creating for a larger purpose. To me, this also visually represents the action of the study of biology. Over hundreds of years many diverging theories and disciplines were created, with countless scientists and students branching out from Iowa State across the globe  in hopes of discovering a more correct understanding of our world and its functions.

IMAGES: 96 Variations on a Phylogenetic Tree, 2018 by Ball-Nogues Studio. Stainless steel ball chain and paint. Commissioned by the University Museums and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. An Iowa Art in State Buildings Project for the Biosciences Facilities - Bessy Hall Addition. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2018.212

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