Modern Renaissance woman Ele Willoughby is both an artist and an scientist who uses visual art to communicate science to a broad audience. Since earning her PhD in physics in 2003, she has worked as a marine geophysics research scientist in academia and government while simultaneously building her printmaking portfolio, making prints about the history of science, natural history and interactive art, incorporating colour-changing or electrically conductive inks and electronics, which straddle the art/science divide. She was also an astronaut candidate during the Canadian Space Agency’s last job search. She lives and works in Toronto, with her husband and young son.
I am interested in Cabinets of Curiosity (or wonder - the wunderkammer) kept by avid amateurs from
the Renaissance up until 19th century. People had huge collections of natural wonders: rocks, gems, fossils, butterflies, shells, bones, all sorts of plants and animals, real and imaginary. Science and magic were still intertwined. These collections both fostered myth (such as narwhal horns passed off as unicorn) and the development of descriptive science (including geology, paleontology, botany and zoology). My subjects make up my own wunderkammer (or Cabinet of Curiosity), filled with flora and fauna (both real and imaginary). I blend my art with my love of science and a tribute to the development of descriptive science the curiosity cabinet represents. I also feature characters from the history of science, which is all about wonder. I am fascinated by myth, fairytales, and symbols. If the cabinet of curiosity represents a sort of proto-science, the myth is like the proto-story, the basis for the stories we tell again and again in different ways.
I work primarily as a printmaker, making relief prints employing linoleum and wood. Some of my work also incorporates painting, multimedia, sculpture and electronics.