Art + Engineering: Jen Bervin on her poetic and material influences [Video]

In February the Block teamed up with Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering to present a conversation with artist Jen Bervin.   In Bervin’s recent project Silk Poems, she consulted nanotechnology and biomedical labs to fabricate a silk film with an ancient Chinese poem written in a six-character chain that corresponds to human DNA.

The Block’s associate director of engagement, Susy Bielak, sat down to speak with Bervin about her research and the intersection between engineering and art.

Bervin discussed the role of extensive research in her practice and her current fascination with 4th century female poet Sui Hui.

The story goes: Hui sent a woven poem to her husband after he had taken a concubine against her wishes. The poem worked immediately to win him back.  Despite the poem being a tale of human relationships that is still be relevant today, Hui’s work is not translated or well known.

Bervin aims to bring Hui’s poem and artistry into the spotlight and generate more interest around it, including the complexity of its  translation. “Like a lot of work by brilliant women it’s underserved…There is a deficit of translation. My work often explores the intersection between text and textile and I’m interested in bringing this artist back into view.” said Bervin.

Bervin went on to explain that when people study or think of art, they mostly focus on paintings on canvas. However art pieces made before and during the 4th century were  made of fabric, metal, stone and other media.  This is why having a concept of the continuum of material technology in art from “the bronze age” into “microfluids,” is one of Bervin’s main focuses. She wants to help change the way people conceptualize the divides between art and science.

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-Contributed by Abigail Kamen, Communications Assistant (Medill 2018)

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