An Artist-Scientist Pirate and Two IMFA Students on a Road Trip

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An Artist-Scientist Pirate and Two IMFA Students on a Road Trip

This Sunday, October 1st, 2017, I joined fellow IMFA graduate student, Destin Black (second-year) to pick up Joe Davis for Digital Humanities Week 2017.  In the art world, Joe is labeled as a Bio Artist  and by director, Peter Sosowky, (, as a “mad scientist” in his documentary, Heaven + Earth + Joe Davis ( Having had the opportunity to pick Joe Up from Cambridge and bring him up to Orono, I can say that labels do not adequately do Joe justice as he is a force of nature…but if I had to refer to him with any character designation, I would borrow the one I have heard him give to himself: a pirate (wooden peg leg and all!).

According to his LinkedIn profile (, Joe has been a Research Affiliate at MIT’s Department of Biology / Thomas Schwartz Laboratory for the past 4 years ( and the Alexander Rich Laboratory for 31 years prior) as well as an Artist Scientist at Harvard Medical School’s  George Church Laboratory for the last 7.5 years.

I was fortunate enough to be able to be able to see his home upon pick up as well as his labs at both MIT and Harvard. I wish I could have spent more time exploring the treasure trove within Joe’s house, including his very impressive collection of fossils, but alas, it was Tow Day on his side of the street and we had to quickly load his equipment into the rental vehicle while stead fastedly keeping an eye out for the Tow Truck guy who was getting coffee down the street.

When we stopped by the lab at MIT, we got to check out Joe’s self-portrait of stone and steel (pictured above). Then, Joe, as our backseat navigator and tour guide (he opted out of riding ‘shot gun’) guided us through morning traffic over to his laboratory at Harvard Medical School. There we had to show our ID’s to the front desk security guard and get time-sensitive badges for our visit. Once there, Joe allowed me to capture an image of his lab space, as we tracked down reusable styrofoam containers to pick dry ice into.

Joe Davis’ Lab at Harvard Medical Center (2017) Photo by: CreativeSoul∞ (With permission from Joe Davis)

At some point during his visit to UMaine, Joe will tell me all about his research, which we were hoping to hear about on the drive up. However, we were all having so much fun on the road, engaged in other conversations, that we did not really get to that. Joe, did ‘serenade’ us to a version of “What do you do with a Drunken Sailor?” in Spanish. It was awesome!

To find out more about his work, from the man himself, I plan to his presentation–Art at the Edge of Science: Joe Davis, Tuesday, October 3rd, 3:30-4:45pm @ the IMRC APPE space– and workshop–THATCamp (DIY Scientific Instruments, Wednesday, October 4th, 3:30-5pm  @ the Hackerspace in the Memorial Union–for Digital Humanities Week.

I leave you with an image I captured of his artwork, “DNA Prayer Flags” (2009) “screen printed with genetic markers for currently incurable diseases,” ( though I will let him tell you about the fossil that is underneath it.

DNA Prayer Flags (2009)
Photo by CreativeSoul∞ (with permission from Joe Davis, the artist scientist)


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One Comment

  1. James Hurdy October 7, 2017 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Joe is simply fantastic. I was completely enchanted.

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