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Senior Spotlight: Abramson exhibits biology through art

Liliana Abramson went “minorly viral” on Twitter after a picture was posted of her latest art project: gall-adorned high heels. Faith Zhang / Thresher

By Chiara Moretti     1/23/24 9:57pm

To Liliana Abramson, art has the potential to be an avenue of education. A double major in Biology and Visual and Dramatic Arts, Abramson has long been interested in exploring the intersection of biology, research and art — an endeavor that recently captured the attention of the Houston Chronicle.

After learning about galls, abnormal growths on the external tissue of plants caused by parasitic wasps, in Professor Scott Egan’s ecology class, Abramson knew she wanted to incorporate them into an art project. Using a box full of galls provided by Egan’s research lab, Abramson took a pair of thrifted high heels and completely covered them with the growths — her way of connecting art with the natural world. Egan asked Abramson if he could post a picture of her project on Twitter, and much to Abramson’s surprise, the tweet went minorly viral and she was soon contacted by the Houston Chronicle for an interview. 

“I didn’t realize there was a big interest in biology-based artwork … I didn’t think anyone was going to care about them,” Abramson, a Jones College senior, said. “It helped me realize I could really get people’s attention by using more biology-based things from the natural world and taking biological concepts we learn in class and incorporating that into the artwork and combining the two fields.”

Despite having an interest in art from an early age, it was biology that originally brought Abramson to Rice. Shortly into her degree, she switched her focus from the pre-med track to ecology-focused academia. 

“I took [a class on] evolution my sophomore year ... and this is actually so much more interesting. I get to learn about cool animals and nature … The research felt a lot more interesting to me,” Abramson said. 

A sculptor since middle school, Abramson said she did not initially consider art as a potential degree path. After coming to Rice and taking art classes, though, she was soon convinced to add VADA as a second major. Part of this decision, she said, was the ability to have her own art studio to work in during senior year.

“If I became an art major, I would get my own studio senior year,” said Abramson. “And that was what sold [the VADA major] to me.”

Though the program exposes students to all forms of art-making, Abramson found her main interest in wearable art. 

“I don’t really like drawing or painting … I need something that’s really tactile,” Abramson said. 

In addition to exploring science and art, Abramson said she appreciates the connections she has made in the program. 

“The art major is small, so you’re going to know people from previous classes. But even in Senior Studio … since you’re all working in such close proximity, it forces you to get to know each other,” Abramson said. “And art itself encourages vulnerability, so that also helps with making friends.”

Abramson’s interest in incorporating science into her art is apparent, Egan said.

“She’s great, and she’s curious about the natural world and she wanted to combine that into her artwork, which was so fun to be part of in a supportive process,” Egan said. 

After graduation, Abramson said she hopes to return to her hometown of Cambridge, Mass. Though she plans on taking a break from school, Abramson has plans to conduct further ecological research in the future. 

“I really love doing biology research, but I want to make sure I still have time to do art … It would be great if I could keep working on combining biology and art,” Abramson said. 

No matter where she ends up, though, Abramson said her interest in biology will continue to inform the art she makes and information she shares.

“Biology has pointed me to a lot of interesting new animals, environments and ecosystems I’d have never thought of before. Learning more about those just gives me more ideas for artwork,” Abramson said. “I think the artwork helps me be more creative with how I approach projects. Especially in the ecology and evolutionary biology field, there’s a big push for scientific communication. One way to do that is through art and design.” 

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