It's Saturday morning in downtown Manhattan, and I'm looking at an enormous smallpox virus. A perfect beginning to a science fiction movie, but not quite so dramatic in real life. The specimen, projected on a wall, is a sculpture made up of yarn and canvas, and mixed media artist Laura Splan is explaining why she used materials that people often associate with comfort and home to depict one of the world's deadliest killers.
"I try to create a fluctuation in perception between comfort and discomfort, beauty and horror, attraction and repulsion," says Splan.Even the audience is a "mixed media" of sorts, filled with an unlikely combination of artists and researchers. But we've come together on a spring day to The New York Academy of Sciences to see biological objects under a different light. From an artist's light, actually.This session's theme is microbes, and Splan is showing pieces that make up...

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