A sculpture for science

When the cancer drug dis­covery and devel­op­ment teams at Sanofi Aventis wanted an art instal­la­tion for their lobby, they ini­tially envi­sioned a sub­trac­tive design to rep­re­sent the phar­ma­ceu­tical company’s sci­en­tific accom­plish­ments.“ Ini­tially, we had planned to create a piece that was a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of cancer, that we could dis­mantle to basi­cally smash  cancer,” said Greg Brown, an intern with the drug dis­covery team. “But our entire orig­inal vision got swayed by this group,” he said, refer­ring to the eight grad­u­ating artstu­dents in Northeastern’s Inter­arts cap­stone course, who earned the chance to design the instal­la­tion after Brown put out a call to sev­eral insti­tu­tions in the area.

At an event at the drug company’s Cam­bridge head­quar­ters last week, senior exec­u­tives in Sanofi’s oncology divi­sion, Kathryn Corzo and Tal Saks, pre­sented each of the North­eastern stu­dents with a cer­tifi­cate of excel­lence in recog­ni­tion of their “sup­port and col­lab­o­ra­tion in helping to con­quer cancer.” The instal­la­tion, which Sanofi will hang in a new building on its Cam­bridge campus next month, is called “Shift.” It con­sists of a wide white center, rem­i­nis­cent of an amor­phous cancer cell, from which sev­eral vibrantly col­ored folded paper mod­ules will be added as new dis­covery mile­stones are achieved . Each time the member of the research group move a new drug from dis­covery to devel­op­ment they will hang another module, lending vis­ible evi­dence to their research progress and sci­en­tific achievement.

The process “allows for the sculp­ture to change in a more dynamic way,” said Matthew Macaluso, AMD ’12, one of the artists who worked on the project. “By adding a module, the Sanofi group becomes more involved in the art­work itself, cre­ating a broader per­sonal meaning within the team.”

The idea for the design derives from an ear­lier project by Courtney Chapman, AMD ’12, another member of the North­eastern team. “When Sanofi pro­vided us with this task, we decided to create a large-​​scale ver­sion of the small, del­i­cate pieces I had made before,” she said.

Chapman and Macaluso both said the expe­ri­ence of working on com­mis­sion for a large com­pany would help them when they enter the work­force. But the col­lab­o­ra­tion also high­lighted the often-​​overlooked con­nec­tion between art and science.

“The two are closely related in many ways,” said art pro­fessor Mira Cantor, who advised the stu­dents and taught the Inter­arts class. “They both seek a home­ostasis to a system at work. They both require the rearrange­ment of data, or forms, to get at the most coherent and eco­nom­ical solu­tions to a problem in the most ele­gant way.”

Corzo agreed, stating that the com­plex del­i­cate art form will be an enduring recog­ni­tion of Sanofi Oncology’s col­lab­o­ra­tive and inno­v­a­tive R &D approach toward dis­cov­ering and devel­oping ther­a­pies to combat cancer in an effort to improve the lives of patients.