weavings depicting computer-generated visualizations of computational simulations of biophysical interactions

Tangible Variations

in collaboration with Adam Lamson
computerized Jacquard cotton weavings affixed to wood wall mounts
54 H × 54 W in (137 H × 137 W cm) each


Tangible Variations is a series of woven scientific visualizations generated from computational biology simulations. The weavings, created in collaboration with theoretical biophysicist Adam Lamson at the Flatiron Institute, explore the emergence of abstraction and noise in material translations of computational representations of the molecular world. Types of visualizations in the series include Hi-C maps, which visualize molecular interactions at a single point in time, and kymographs, which aggregate interactions over the entire duration of a simulation.

Tangible Variations is a series of woven scientific visualizations generated from computational biology simulations. The weavings, created in collaboration with theoretical biophysicist Adam Lamson at the Flatiron Institute, explore the emergence of abstraction and noise in material translations of computational representations of the molecular world. Types of visualizations in the series include Hi-C maps, which visualize molecular interactions at a single point in time, and kymographs, which aggregate interactions over the entire duration of a simulation.

The patterns of the woven contact maps show interactions among nucleosomes as the structure of chromatin reconfigures. Chromatin is a complex of DNA, RNA, and protein that is found in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells and is responsible for packaging and organizing the genetic material of a cell. The changing configuration of chromatin over time has important implications for gene expression, epigenetics, disease, and evolution. Simulations of chromatin configurations can be run with biophysical models from which contact map visualizations can be inferred. Contact maps are used by scientists to reveal changing structural features of chromatin such as interactions between DNA wound around the nucleosomes. They can reveal how a genome is organized and show how likely two parts of the genome are to be close to one another.

Adam Lamson generates simulated contact maps (representing different points in time or an ensemble average) from his biophysical models. Variations in patterns among the weavings are the result of different spatial positions of nucleosomes in the simulations that are represented with a spectrum of colors known as color maps. The Tangible Variations series incorporates the use of different color maps including "cubehelix", designed by Dave Green of the Astrophysics Group at Cavendish Laboratory. The title for the series was inspired by the term “intangible variation” also known as “developmental noise”, use to explain the role of external causes such as environmental conditions in phenotypic variation that cannot be attributed to genotype.

About the Collaboration

“Tangible Variations” is part of Sticky Settings, a sciart collaboration between interdisciplinary artist Laura Splan and theoretical biophysicist Adam Lamson. Their projects explore entanglements of computational and biological worlds through research, co-creation, and public engagement. Their process and production are informed by Lamson’s biophysical simulations and Splan’s studio practice interrogating scientific imaging techniques. Lamson’s chromatin simulations serve as both material and as conceptual framework for artworks that attempt to communicate complex biology by connecting virtual representations of the biological world with sensory encounters and tactile experiences. The collaboration looks for potential for deeper understanding of science through rematerialized representations of molecular phenomena. Their weavings, soundscapes, and animations engage audiences with abstract biological and mathematical concepts using familiar media, immersive experiences, and visually arresting imagery.

The creative underpinnings of Sticky Settings are informed by Splan and Lamson’s shared fascination with the layers of translation involved in digital representations of molecular biology. In software interfaces, “sticky settings” is a phrase used to describe “remembered” user settings. “Sticky” is also a term Lamson uses to describe certain molecular interactions in his computer-generated models. In biology, evidence has emerged for gene bookmarking suggesting mechanisms of epigenetic memory or “stickiness” in DNA. Their collaborative artworks repurpose the “GUI” interfaces with which we confront “gooey” biological materialities in the lab and reframe their implications in our everyday lives.

Studio Press Release for Seeing the Unseen Exhibition

Artist Laura Splan will exhibit works from her Tangible Variations (2022) series of computerized Jacquard weavings in the group exhibition, Seeing the Unseen: Science + Art, at the Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art (Rancho Cucamonga, CA). The exhibition brings together the work of ten contemporary artists whose practices operate at the intersection of science and art.

Laura Splan is an interdisciplinary artist who routinely incorporates and interrogates scientific tools, technologies, and visualizations in her artworks, often taking the form of immersive installations or tactile objects. Splan created her Tangible Variations series of weavings in collaboration with Adam Lamson, a Science Collaborator and theoretical biophysicist at the Flatiron Institute, a division of the Simons Foundation. Lamson creates computational simulations of how DNA organizes itself inside a cell with implications for how spatial shifts on a molecular scale can manifest changes in gene expression.

Sticky Settings is the overarching title for Splan and Lamson’s sciart collaboration supported by the Simons Foundation, which to date also includes animations and soundscapes, in addition to the weavings of Tangible Variations. The phrase “sticky settings” is borrowed from a computer software context, which refers to user-selected settings that a program “remembers” for subsequent sessions. Lamson and Splan found this usage analogous to those used in epigenetics research to describe DNA “bookmarking” – how genes can toggle on or off, and potentially “stick” with their state to be inherited by offspring. Splan and Lamson share an interest in how, over time, sticky settings have important implications for gene expression and overall health.

The abstract patterns found in Tangible Variations are result of multiple layers of translation, interpretation, and experimentation, performed by Lamson and Splan through the various technologies they employ in their working processes. Each of Splan’s computerized Jacquard woven tapestries traces its origin back to Lamson’s 3D chromatin simulations, from which he infers contact, also known as Hi-C, maps. These are essentially 2D scientific visualizations that detail how a genome is organized and predict the proximity of two parts of the genome. The contact maps are a “snapshot” of the molecular form at a single point in time, whereas the kymograph aggregate and represent all chromatin configurations over the duration of a simulation. Working from Lamson’s visualizations, Splan creates large, wall-displayed weavings made using a computerized Jacquard loom to explore what might emerge through a shift in materiality.

Across a grouping of three weavings, titled Tangible Variations (cubehelix): 5000, 5500, 6000 (all 2022), an intricate gridded pattern repeats with subtle variations in composition, evolving from one to the next. Based on three Hi-C maps, differences in composition between the weavings reveal changes in molecular configurations, with contrasting areas of light and dark indicating varying degrees of interaction. A stark, white diagonal bisects the imagery of each textile, extending from the lower left corner to the upper right to establish a mirrored, fractal-like configuration of bright clusters bleeding into one another or else receding into an inky expanse. An individual tapestry, Tangible Variations (cubehelix): kymograph (2022) deviates from the stark rectilinear patterning seen in her triptych, instead depicting an organic, rippling field of staticky textures. If a Hi-C map is like a film still, a kymograph is the entire film reel; it aggregates all the interactions tracked over the full duration of the simulation, showing the process unfolding over time from left to right. Deep blue and green threads dominate a dark and densely scrawled form that seeps in from the left edge of the tapestry towards the center, before abruptly yielding to patchy, undulating swathes of noise. The term “cubehelix” in the artwork titles derives from the name of the color map or palette used by Lamson and Splan in the works. Developed by Dave Green of the Astrophysics Group at University of Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory, cubehelix is a specific spectrum of colors designed to factor in the perception of color intensity, color vision deficiency, and reproducibility in black and white to ensure legibility of scientific visualizations across a broad range of users and applications. It is based on an RGB (red, green, and blue) color model, the same as a computer screen, and similar to their weavings’ palette of red, green, blue, yellow, white, and black threads.

As a scientist might introduce a random factor or seed to drive a computation, Splan’s decision to reimagine Lamson’s visualizations as computerized Jacquard weavings for artistic purposes catalyzes a host of intended and unforeseen deviations. The works that comprise Tangible Variations represent information at a much larger scale than their source; this, in combination with the interwoven nature of the textiles, results in some loss in translation while making way for new interpretations. Areas of repetition in the resulting woven image are thrown into greater relief, distilling patterns in the weave that were not readily apparent before Splan rendered them as tactile objects. In a poetic gesture, the fibers that make up the Tangible Variations echo the simulated genetic fibers that informed their designs. Their familiar materiality and the ability to interact with the weavings as aesthetic objects afford viewers an unexpected, embodied way to experience an interpretation of abstract, molecular phenomena.

— Text by Renee Delosh

Science Friday

...biophysicist Adam Lamson is collaborating with artist Laura Splan in a project the two of them call ‘Sticky Settings’...From giant tapestries that present maps of DNA in colorful, tactile formats, to otherworldly animations set to music, their art invites a non-scientific audience to literally walk into the processes our own cells are undergoing every day...


...Interdisciplinarity is the foundation on which artist Laura Splan conceives her work...Through her practice, science is moved out of the laboratories while keeping its axioms and experiments present...A number of its mechanisms are paralleled with the cultural dynamics that inhabit our everyday lives, putting a magnifying glass on the interconnections that exist between diverse fields of knowledge...

Arte Fuse

…Splan deftly weaves scientific findings into visually stimulating artworks…

Simons Foundation
New Musuem

This work was made possible by the Simons Foundation. Created in collaboration with Adam Lamson, Science Collaborator and theoretical biophysicist at Flatiron Institute, a division of the Simons Foundation.

Created while in residence as NEW INC Artist in Residence at EY at NEW INC, the New Museum's cultural incubator