Ayelen Valko & Dorotea Fracchiolla
Autophagic landscapes: on the paradox of survival through self-degradation
About the exhibition
Can you imagine self-degradation as a survival mechanism? That sounds like a pretty counterintuitive idea, right? However, this is exactly what happens in our cells under stressful conditions. Stress induces autophagy, a basic and essential mechanism of cell physiology through which cells exposed to stress stimuli (such as fasting) try to preserve themselves through a self-eating process. There is beauty in this dialectical contradiction, as it reflects a self-regulatory balance of life that can be extrapolated to other levels of biological organization, from single cells to entire ecosystems. Thus, this exhibition talks about the resilience of biological material in stressful situations. It proposes a visual journey from a macroscopic level of organization (entire organisms) toward the interior of a single cell, unveiling the infinite mysteries concealed within it. Even though they have very valuable aesthetic features, intracellular landscapes are not a common topic in art. Correcting this is the main aim of this exhibition. Both Ayelen Valko and Dorotea Fracchiolla are scientists–as well as artists–focused on autophagy research. Thus, through their artwork, they illustrate this mechanism from different points of view and magnification levels.
About the artists
Ayelen Valko is an Argentine-born artist and scientist. Currently, she lives in Heidelberg (Germany) where she moved to join Sebastian Schuck’s laboratory at Heidelberg University as a postdoctoral fellow studying micro-autophagy in the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Ayelen studied Biology at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and did her PhD at the Leloir Institute back in Buenos Aires where she explored the molecular mechanisms that trigger starvation-induced macro-autophagy in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. This project required her to gain skills in different microscopic techniques such as confocal and electron microscopy which granted her access to the fascinating subcellular universe. Her experience in different model organisms (mainly yeasts and flies) allows her to appreciate biological processes from different perspectives.
For her, art has always been as important as science. She has been trained in different art techniques at the National University of Art in Argentina, after which she specialized in scientific and naturalistic illustration at the “Ernst Haeckel” Scientific Painting Laboratory, the “Adumbratio” Scientific Illustration Center, and “Aves Argentinas”. Her artworks have been exhibited in galleries and museums back in Argentina, among them the Quinquela Martin Museum and the Rómulo Raggio Foundation in Buenos Aires, and some of them were selected as cover images in the Journal of Cell Science, Autophagy Journal, Autophagy Reports, Bio-protocol, and Developmental Biology. She has also described some of these scientific paintings in a commentary article for the Autophagy Journal.