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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 art students 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.

One module, in progress. Courtesy photo.

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.