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The Dance: A Cell Block Tango Biological Pun

Figures Emerging in the cell membrane, the nucleus, and the cytoplasm
by Dawn Hunter Art ®

Click on the individual images below to activate a slideshow of the artwork.


"The metamorphoses of the granule cited ( confirmed afterwards by Lugaro, Retzius, Athias, and other scientists) reveal some of the essential steps of the developmental mechanism of the neurons, and also present difficult and transcendental problems. What mysterious forces precede the appearance of the processes, promote their growth and ramication, stimulate the corresponding migration of the cells and fibres in predetermined directions, as if in obedi­ence to a skillfully arranged architectural plan, and finally establish those protoplasmic kisses, the intercellular ar­ticulations, Which seem to constitute the final ecstasy of an epic love story?"


~ Santiago Ramón y Cajal

This is a painting of two dancers doing the tango by artist Dawn Hunter.

Cell Block Tango Embrace, acrylic on board, 12" x 17.5"

Have you ever thought about how dancers could be compared to the parts of a cell? Imagine them gracefully moving in the cell's center, just like the nucleus - the control center that regulates growth, division, and gene expression! Here are my latest series of paintings, inspired by the mesmerizing "Cell Block Tango" dance and Santiago Ramón y Cajal's legendary neuron imagery! It's a fantastical blend of art and science through figuration that showcases a cell's function through narrative.


Inspired by the movie Chicago, I am appropriating the Cell Block Tango scene with a sense of humor, sensuality, and irony. The pieces playfully merge dancers' fluid movements with cellular textures and abstracted structures of cells, bringing to life a visual pun that marries artistic expression and artistic research.

This is a painting of dancers on a stage getting ready to do the tango by artist Dawn Hunter.

Beyond Golgi's Reach, the Endoplasmic Reticulum, acrylic on board, 12" x 17.5"

In constructing the narrative of cellular growth with dancers, I visualized and recontextualized a dance performance. The dancers in the middle of the stage are like the boss of a cell, telling it how to grow and do its thing. That's called the nucleus! 


Now, picture the backstage of the cell - the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). It's like this network of sacs and tubes, and it's got two main parts. One is the rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER), which is a bumpy surface because of these things called ribosomes. They help make and tweak proteins that the cell needs, either for its outer layer or to send out. The other part, the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER), is like the opposite - no bumps, just a sleek surface. It's all about making fats needed for the cell's outer layer and cleaning up any yucky stuff that might hurt the cell.

This is a painting of two couples dancing the tango.

A Spin in the Golgi Complex, acrylic on board, 12" x 17.5"

Did you know cells have three main parts? The cell membrane, nucleus, and cytoplasm work together to create a "harmonious cellular dance." The cell membrane is like the bouncer at a club, controlling who comes and goes, while the nucleus houses the cell's DNA and makes RNA. Meanwhile, the cytoplasm is the life of the party, filled with essential cell components like the Golgi complex, mitochondria, and endoplasmic reticulum. 


The Golgi complex, it's like the cell's very own post office! This organelle, found in eukaryotic cells, is a series of stacked, membrane-bound sacs that help sort and direct proteins and lipids to their final destinations. The Golgi complex plays a role in protein processing, lipid biosynthesis, and cell signaling, and it also helps create lysosomes that break down waste and debris in the cell. 

This is a painting of a woman and man dancing the tango.

Center Stage in the Nucleus, acrylic on board, 12" x 17.5"

The ER plays a huge role in protein synthesis, lipid metabolism, and cellular Ca2+ regulation. Plus, it's a storage site for calcium ions, essential for cell signaling and muscle contractions. Now, let's talk about the cell's nucleus, its "brain." It's a membrane-bound organelle that stands out in the cell, controlling and directing its activities through DNA stored inside. The nucleus directs the transcription of DNA into RNA and the synthesis of proteins. These proteins then take on different roles within the cell, from providing structural support to catalyzing reactions. The nucleus is vital for the cell's survival and proper functioning. Just as the dancers bring energy and life to the stage, the nucleus brings life to the cell. The vibrant colors add a playful touch, showcasing the beauty of movement and the magic of Cajal’s protoplasmic kisses.

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