Faculty portfolios

  • Isomorphic Extension I + II.
    Isomorphic Extension I + II.
  • Extension III.
    Extension III.
  • Probe I.
    Probe I.
  • Probe II.
    Probe II.
  • Cenesthesia: Sight.
    Cenesthesia: Sight.
  • Cenesthesia: Sight II.
    Cenesthesia: Sight II.

Patricia Olynyk

Florence and Frank Bush Professor of Art

Director, Creative Research Institute

Campus Box 1031

Patricia Olynyk’s work investigates science and technology related themes and the ways in which social systems and institutional structures shape our understanding of human life and the natural world. Her prints, photographs, and video installations engage the history of science to explore the dialectics of mind and body, human and artificial, and cognition and affect. Working across disciplines to develop “third culture” projects, she frequently collaborates with research scientists, humanists, cinematographers, and industry specialists. Many of her multimedia environments call upon the viewer to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit—whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them.

Olynyk received her MFA degree with Distinction from the California College of the Arts and spent four years as a Monbusho Scholar and a Tokyu Foundation Research Scholar in Japan. Prior to joining Washington University in 2007 as founding director of the unified MFA in Visual Art program and the Florence and Frank Bush Professor of Art, Olynyk was an associate professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where she taught in the School of Art & Design and designed numerous cross-disciplinary initiatives across campus. Olynyk was also director of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Program and the Roman J. Witt Visiting Faculty Program, which supported discourse, practice, and research across disciplines at the highest level. In 2005, she became the first non-scientist appointed to the university’s renowned Life Sciences Institute.

Olynyk has been the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including a Helmut S. Stern Fellowship at the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan and a Francis C. Wood Fellowship at the College of Physicians, Philadelphia. She has held residencies at UCLA’s Design Media Arts Department, the Banff Center for the Arts, Villa Montalvo, California, and the University of Vienna, Austria. Her work has been featured at Palazzo Michiel, Venice in an ancillary exhibition of the Venice Architecture Biennial, the Los Angeles International Biennial, The Brooklyn Museum, the Saitama Modern Art Museum in Japan, and Museo del Corso in Rome. Her solo exhibitions include: Sensing Terrains at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., Dark Skies at the Art I Sci Center Gallery at UCLA, and Transfigurations at Galeria Grafica Tokio, Tokyo, Japan. Other recent exhibitions include: Skeptical Inquirers at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York, Sleuthing the Mind at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, and Ephemeral: Unraveling History at the Ruth S. Harley Gallery, Adelphi University, New York.

Olynyk is former Chair of the Leonardo Education and Art Forum, a branch of the International Society for the Arts, Science, and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST). She co-directs the Leonardo/ISAST NY LASER program in New York, which promotes cross-disciplinary exchange between artists, scientists, and scholars. Her writing is featured in publications that include the Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, Technoetic Arts, PUBLIC Journal, and Leonardo Journal.


My work lies at the art/science/technology nexus and often examines the ways in which culture and institutional structures shape (mis)understandings of the history of science and medicine.

Projects such as Oculus play with the principle of the synecdoche, or how the fragments of entities can stand in for their wholes. Oculus, a large-scale light sculpture that depicts a colossal abstracted drosophila eye, replete with compound faceted surfaces, both recalls the circular opening at the apex of a cupola and alludes to a surveillance device or drone hovering in mid-air. This collaborative project, fabricated with Metron Designworks and Axi:Ome, is inspired in part by a series of scanning electron micrographs I produced in a transgenic core facility while researching human and non-human sensoria. The work evokes affective encounters with scale, such as viewing miniature particles through the lens of a microscope or wandering through monumental physical environments. Each viewer’s reflection plays across the sculpture’s undulating surface, emphasizing the precariousness of our coexistence with other lifeforms in the world, one that is always contingent upon viewers’ bodies and the variability of the environment around them.

The Mutable Archive is a multi-layered video and artist book project that speaks to renewed nationalistic obsessions with Othering and difference. The project begins with nineteen photographs of human subjects in a physiognomy collection and their accompanying archive cards, which I produced at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. Nineteen commissioned writers—artists, scholars, historians, a medical ethicist, a philosopher, an opera singer, and a spiritual medium—each create a speculative biography for a subject of their choosing from the series of photographs. Each script and recorded monologue, a 4K cinematic video, exposes the roles of assumption and subjectivity in science.

Dark Skies, a multimedia collaboration with Axi:Ome and Christopher Ottinger is a two-channel projection on a large-scale dimensional wall. The installation includes an evocative soundscape, drawn primarily from field recordings of vespertine creatures emerging as night falls. The title for this work is an astronomical metaphor that refers to remote places free of hazy city light. The installation was inspired in part by night sky preservation, biomimicry, and the complex relationship between natural forms at the micro and macro levels. Dark Skies triggers affective alliances between viewers and a projected habitat that is quivering with life. Their shadows play across a complex, undulating surface, epitomizing our physical entanglement with ecosystems that defy boundaries between species.