ANU School of Art PhD candidate Erica Seccombe has won the inaugural $20,000 Paramor Prize for Art and Innovation earlier this month, for her work “Virtual Life” (pictured below). Her winning work, currently exhibited at the Sydney Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre until Sunday 15th March, is a large ink jet print created using the ANU School of Art’s Inkjet Research Facility.

“Virtual Life” is a solvent print on a 1.2 metre tall by 2.4 long reflective aluminium composite board. This reflective surface not only gives the print a 3-dimensional effect, but also allows the viewer to see a reflection of themselves. In order to produce this effect, Seccombe worked closely with the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics as part of her PhD candidacy.

“The work is inspired by my use of 3D micro-computed x-ray tomography (Micro-CT), which was developed at the ANU, and a custom designed volumetric exploration software called Drishti. This was doneat the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics, as they are international leaders in this field of research,” she said.

Drishti, which means ‘insight’ in Sanskrit, has also been developed at the ANU by Dr Ajay Limaye. So it is all happening here at the ANU. I’ve been really lucky to be part of this research.”

Seccombe said that the tomography and Drishti were almost analogous to x-rays and CAT scans taken in hospitals, except that in this case, hundreds of of scans from different angles were captured to create a single 3D image. Additionally, images could be compressed over several days to create a 3-dimensional time lapse.

The innovative use of this technology, and the inclusion of scientific techniques, has made Seccombe’s print unique. In the centre of “Virtual Life” is a time-lapsed image of bean seeds that had been germinating inside the tomography scanner for several days, “something that has not been attempted before with this science,” Seccombe said.

“This print is about collaborative research practice at the ANU, not just about my own work as an individual. It’s really a model on how the ANU should be promoting collaborative research practices between Schools and Colleges and disciplines,” Seccombe said.

Seccombe completed the work has part of her PhD. “I’ve worked really hard… I’ve published and written papers, created and coordinated symposiums, presented my own research at numerous conferences in Australia and overseas, and I’ve exhibited my studio research regularly,” she said.

Seccombe also presented her work at TEDxCanberra 2014.

“It had been incredibly rewarding but very challenging at the same time, particularly as I’m a parent and partner,” she admitted.

“But the HDR (Higher Degree by Research) program at the School of Art is incredibly supportive. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

“I don’t think many ANU people outside of a visual art discipline realise what an amazing facility and resource the School of Art is. They don’t see how important it is to have a full suite of working studios across a broad range of disciplines and how this contributes to Australia’s society on a whole range of levels.”

Post PhD, Seccombe is looking to the future. “I’ve been offered the most amazing opportunity to work at the Natural History Museum in London with their scientific visualization laboratory,” she said. The Natural History Museum is one of the few other internationally recognized bodies that deal with the Micro-CT and Drishti. “I’m really looking forward to it and hope that some great work will come out of it.”

The Paramor Prize commemorates the life of the late Wendy Paramor, one of Australia’s most loved and celebrated female modern artists. Paramor died at the age of 37, with a large portion of her works now residing at the Powerhouse Arts Centre. While 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of her death, the prize aims to encourage inspiration and modernism within artistic thinking. Seccombe’s work was chosen as the most innovative exploration of art amongst 40 other finalists.

Image: Erica Seccombe, ‘Virtual life’ Solvent print on aluminium composite board, 1220 mm x 2400 mm, 2014