“I've always been seduced by technology – how it can be used to interact and communicate with the natural world, enabling appreciation of the obscured or concealed, and how it can exhibit truth or lies with equal gravitas, sometimes purposefully misinterpreting reality. I am interested in the translation of hidden biological systems through abstraction or metaphor, as graphic, sound, animation or object. My work is rarely predictable, I often feel I construct open frameworks which allow the free flow of nature's content into them.”

For the past 12 years Julie Freeman's work has focused on using technologies to ‘translate nature’ – whether through the sound of torrential rain dripping on a giant rhubarb leaf; implanting bio-acoustic tags in fish to transpose their movement to music; or by providing an interactive platform from which to view the twitch of dogs' ears.

After studying a BSc in Design Technology, Freeman co-founded a digital media company and worked for organisations such as the Hayward Gallery, the BBC and the Science Museum on creative educational software. In 1996 she took a sabbatical to study a masters in Digital Art at the Lansdown Center for Electronic Arts where she learned C programming merged with fine art practice. Heavily influenced by this, Freeman still advocates that “creating your own software is essential for an artist working with technology.” In 1998 Freeman and the ‘Digital Wave’, a large interactive sculpture created with her company Studio Fish, were featured on BBC TV's science and technology programme, Tomorrow's World.

Freeman didn't set out to work with science but her curiosity about the natural world, particularly the hidden aspects of it, has continually led her to learn more. She believes that high levels of creativity are required in multi-disciplinary areas, both art and science, which could be why she finds working with scientists inspiring. Freeman says it's not just the subject, but how scientists work, the processes and methodologies used to explore ideas. Most importantly she views the relationships as two-way transactions. Her recent collaboration with Professor of nanotechnology at Cranfield University, Jeremy Ramsden, has resulted in a scientific paper. Ramsden comments “I really have to think, and I think we all do, with Julie's questions. They are not the sort of questions we would otherwise ask.”

In 2005, she launched a pioneering work ‘The Lake’, which used an array of hydrophones and advanced bio-acoustic technology to track tagged fish, 24 hours a day for six weeks, to create a site-specific art work that enabled fish to create music and animation.

For ‘In Sound Mind’ (2006) a disturbing sonic art installation created for an art and psychology science communication event, Freeman was inspired by how functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is used to understand empathic response, particularly in people with Asperger's Syndrome. The collaboration grew out of a chance recognition of the similarities between Freeman's early animations and some experimental stimuli used by Dr Emma Lawrence, experimental psychologist and lecturer in cognition and neuroimaging at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. Lawrence's research focuses on empathy and emotion perception, and from her perspective, it was particularly useful to learn about the methods that an artist, working without the constraints of scientific experimentation, can use to evoke empathy.

With support from the Wellcome Trust and Happen, Freeman is currently artist-in-residence at the Microsystems and Nanotechnology Center at Cranfield University (UK). Working with Professor Ramsden she has been developing works that aim to increase public understanding of self-assembly and organising processes at the nanoscale and their potential social impacts and consequences. The residency was instigated by Ramsden – “I'd read a very interesting book by Cyril Smith [1] in which he argues that the primary motivation for new technology was aesthetic” so he thought an artist on his team would push the technology in a new direction. Freeman was a perfect fit.

Derek Market

Each month, we will feature a new piece of art from Julie Freeman on

Further reading
[1] C.S. Smith, The Search for Structure: Selected Essays on Science, Art and History, MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.) (1981)

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(09)70061-6