Student work: Ann Motonaga's sculptural book of wood cells

Ann Motonaga (MArch '18) joined the Nature Lab as a Graduate Research Assistant this year. As a grad liaison to the Architecture department, she is working to help advance GIS capabilities of architecture students in the research seminar "Ash Mountains" as well as in other classes that make use of spatial data.

During her training on the Nature Lab's microscopy equipment, Ann was able to explore cross sections of specially dyed tree samples from diverse species at magnification levels of up to 40 times.


A single-leaf pine (Pinus monophylla) under the microscope.

Inspired by the lab collections to combine her architectural background with an interest in microscopy, she created Contemplation. This sculptural, one-of-a-kind artist's book explores trees at the cellular level where species variation can be clearly delineated. Ann was interested in the fluidity of the cellular patterns, which sometimes have an established rhythm and sometimes do not.

As an architecture student, Ann is attracted to wood because of its building and design qualities. She explains, "Wood has been a valuable resource since ancient civilization. It is often used for shelter and heat and is prized for its natural beauty. Wood has also played a key role in sustainable design, given its ability to sequester carbon dioxide and be recycled or repurposed at the end of its life. Recent studies have also shown that wood has positive health effects on people who spend time surrounded by it — in wood dwellings for example, versus other materials such as steel and concrete."

The high resolution microscopic images Ann captured of the tree species' cellular patterns were extracted as simplified vectorized line patterns to be etched on plexiglass.

Vectorized line pattern of a pinus cell.

Ann cut bass wood to form frames for the full color microscopic slide images, which were also reproduced on plexiglass. The framed wood and full color panels were interspersed with the sparser line pattern panels, and all the panels were stitched together into an accordion book format that stands on its own. The wood frames function as a solid visual reminder of the slide content's original form, and the three types of representation of trees (wood substance, dyed scientific slide, and simplified cellular pattern) gesture toward the complexities of representing nature.

Solidity and translucence contrast in the layers of the book.

The intent of the book was to craft a three-dimensional form that mimics the dialogue between what can be seen under the microscope versus with the naked eye, a contrast that is often explored in Ann's current studio work. This interest in scale, perception, and exploration beyond the immediately visible is shared by many naturalists and artists who utilize the Nature Lab's collections.

Pine (pinus) cross section slide under the microscope.
A full view of the free standing accordion book.
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