Art Meets Microbiology at University at Buffalo’s New Medical School Building

September 4, 2017


A once purely functional space near the escalator that takes student from the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences into the Allen-Medical Metro Rail station has taken an artful turn with a biomedical twist.

Dubbed “Gut Flora” and commissioned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the brightly hued sculptural work is made up of seven 17-foot metal strands and is inspired by the intricate, microscopic structures of viruses and bacterial molecules. Artist Shasti O’Leary-Soudant, also a clinical assistant professor in the UB Department of Art, developed the idea for the project while studying the emerging field of the microbiome and the concept that survival depends to a large extent on good bacteria.

“That idea of beneficial bacteria became the centerpiece of what I was trying to achieve,” she recently told reporters, noting that in developing the idea, she began to think of the city as a corporeal body. “Look at the transportation systems, the streets, the public transit, all of these things, these are the veins, the digestive system and the circulatory systems of the body of the city.”

“The work’s biological theme is an ideal artistic expression of exactly what goes on in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and on the growing medical campus,” adds Aaron Ott, curator of public art for Buffalo’s Albright-Knox art gallery.

The piece is now a dramatic focal point of the eight-story, 628,000-square-foot new medical school, located just across the street from the UBMD Physicians’ Group practices and a stone’s throw from the construction site of the new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital. It’s the perfect artistic concept for its surroundings and those who traverse them daily.

“If a medical student looks at it, they’re instantly going to make a connection with organisms,” O’Leary-Soudant says. “It looks profoundly biological. Just the torque of it echoes DNA. It’s a nod to what they’re researching; it’s about what they do. This art is about their lives.”

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