Using the NCRIS-enabled CT imaging capabilities at the NIF Monash Node, award-winning artist Valerie Sparks is exploring ways to collect, manipulate and present 3D datasets. Her art project in progress, named ‘Bio-aesthetic’, focuses on the rarely visualised interior of flora.

“I have been exploring ways to create artwork from data collected using scientific equipment. This includes conducting CT scans of plants, using the ‘Lung’ pre-sets of medical imaging software to create imagery for still life works. Using a diagnostic tool for the human body to create a still life draws attention to how inextricably bound we are with the life and death of plants, the respiratory system of the planet.

2020 started with catastrophic events. The infernos that torched vast areas of land were a cogent reminder of our dependency on plants. As smoke from the east coast fires drifted over cities the scans of plants viewed through the ‘Lung’ setting took on new meanings. As the year progressed and the pandemic hit, breath became ever more central to our thoughts. Life support, ventilators, masks – we were stuck between our primal biological need for air, and an invisible threat that it could transmit.

The CT scanning project is part of a broader interest in the relationship between art and science. Developments in scientific data visualisation provide us with new ways of understanding aspects of our biosystem through giving form to phenomena that is not visible to us. This resonates with how I experience the creative process of the visual arts. Central to new work is what I believe to be a key link between science and artistic practice – the act of ‘observation’.  In science, observation is not only the recording of data. Observation inspires scientific questions and drives discoveries. In the arts, we not only view the work created by an artist, we are invited to experience the artist’s process of observation.”

Adjunct Senior Research Fellow and award-winning artist, Valerie Sparks
“‘Pomegranate Seeds, as a Work in Progress’ is a representation of the unstoppable creative energy of nature. The ever-present process of ‘becoming’ that surrounds and moves through us. As such, it is also a metaphor for creative practice, which for me involves finding ways to celebrate creative energy and communicate this sense of wonderment.” – Valerie Sparks

Using the NIF supported imaging equipment at MBI, a series of specimens were scanned and the images manipulated and transformed into ghostly transparent forms that focus the eye on the intricate, beautiful interiors of plants. NIF Facility Fellows assisted with the successful development of CT protocols and the rendering and manipulation of CT images to create evocative and exciting imagery that blends the technical skills of the imaging scientists with the composition and visualisation skills of the artist.

An image of a bonsai scan displayed within the Monash Immersive Visualisation Platform (MIVP) CAVE. The MIVP partners with research groups and industry to transform visualisation practice, by innovating and promoting new paradigms in immersive, collaborative visualisation of data and environments.

A variety of floral compositions were created on foam beds and scanned in the large bore Somotom or small-bore Inveon computer tomography (CT) instruments. This development of CT scanning and mounting methodology produced reliable and reproducible images of tiny and thin objects (leaves and petals) within the CT.

The CT scan parameters for the Somotom scanner were: 80kV, 0.35 degree pitch, 1.5 sec rotation time and data were reconstructed with a 0.6mm slice at 0.3 mm increments using both a soft Hr 40 and hard Hr 60 kernel. The CT scan parameters for the Inveon scanner were: 80kV, 360 projections at 1 degree increments, 180 ms exposure and data was reconstructed at 100 um resolution using a standard Feldkamp algorithm. Image data was manipulated for artistic purposes using medical imaging software 3D Slicer and Adobe Photoshop.

Several artworks have been completed, with a number still in progress. Two artworks have been finalists in two national art prizes: ‘Pomegranate Seeds as a Work in Progress’ was in the Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize, and ‘Momento Spiritum’ in the Banyule Works on Paper Prize. ‘Momento Spiritum’ was purchased for the City of Banyule collection. A collection of works in progress can be seen at Valerie’s website:

This story was contributed by the Monash NIF Node. With thanks to the contributors: Michael de Veer1, Tara Sepehrizadeh1 and Valerie Sparks2

1Monash Biomedical Imaging, Monash University, Clayton, Vic., Australia. 2The Monash Immersive Visualisation Platform, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. Australia.

For more information, please contact National Imaging Facility Fellow Dr Michael de Veer.