Award winning Japanese illustrator, Yoko Shimizu blurs the lines between art and science

FEB 21, 2019 | By Aman Mehta
CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT In this project, Anatomy of Flora, anatomical images of various plant species are collected. The digital images are magnified — the inner structures of the species are captured in more detail, and with vibrant colours; The Photosynthegraph installation; Photographs courtesy Yoko Shimizu.
CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT Yoko working on the Photosynthegraph installation; The Gravitropism installation; Pop Culture - cells are cultivated on colourful agar culture to grow into various graphic patterns and texts.

Growing up in the old cultural capital of Japan, Yoko Shimizu was surrounded by nature and traditional art. Frequent visits to the botanical gardens with her parents, art lessons in the midst of Kyoto’s rice paddies, and delightful hours spent in her grandfather’s room with its infinite supply of brushes, paints and materials planted the seed for her future. Even her first word was ‘hana’, meaning flower. When her family shifted to New York, Yoko was enticed by the museums, musicals and other contemporary art the city had to offer. Far from a purely creative bent of mind, however, she studied Biology and Chemistry at Kobe university. “I find it so fascinating that the things around us have all evolved over four billion years,” Yoko says, “We don’t usually think about all the scientific processes taking place around us, but by visualizing them and turning them into installations, people can experience them. I want my art to not just be visually stimulating, but also ensure people instinctively understand how beautiful and complex our Earth and universe is by looking at it.” The artist’s work is characterised by intricate processes and attention to detail. In an installation titled Gravitropism, tulips bulbs are grown upside down in mid-air through hormonal alterations. The stems gradually turn 180 degrees to face upward, where the light source is located. In Photosynthegraph, graphic print films are attached to plant leaves, allowing the chloroplasts to create starch based on the graphic design. The leaves are then treated chemically to visualize these graphics. The completed images are delicate and beautiful, with a natural vintage feel – reminiscent of the history of life on Earth. “Microorganisms in a petri dish represent a microcosm of a macrocosm. The way things seem to emerge from nothing, proliferate and eventually die, there is a representation of society and life as a whole”, she says, when asked about what she loves most about working with microorganisms. Yoko wanted her studio to have a name that would transcend linguistic and cultural barriers. The characters of her first name can be read as ‘proton’, and +1e is the electric charge of a proton, hence Lab +1e was born.