PROTEINS
GROOVIKSCUBE
INCEPTIONISM
DEEPDREAM
STILLIFE
ABOUT
"Angel of Death" - Ubiquitin
Copper, Steel - 9"x9"x16"
2011 - currently on display at ScienceHouse

Life is a dynamic equilibrium of creation and destruction. Inside our cells the protein nano-machines, to which we owe our distinction from the inorganic, are perpetually recycled and rebuilt, forever battling the inevitable fate of entropic decay. Once covalently tagged with Ubiquitin, a protein is doomed to destruction by the proteasome, a protein degradation machine found in all of our cells. The component amino acids are then reused to synthesize new proteins. The constant recycling and rebuilding of proteins not only ensures that damaged proteins are removed quickly, but also allows rapid regulation of enzyme levels in the cell. The meandering path of the metal ribbon closely follows the fold and thus the internal structure of Ubiquitin. It features all of the major structural elements of typical proteins, including two alpha helices and a curved beta sheet. Its small size (76 amino acids) makes it one of the most studied proteins for protein folding and dynamics.
"Angel of Death" - Ubiquitin
 
 
 
"Tears" - Lysozyme with carbohydrate
Cast bronze, Cast Glass, Wood - 20"x10"x12"
2015

Tears display antibacterial activity, a property that was discovered by Alexander Fleming around the turn of the last century. The active agent, Lysozyme, is also found in saliva, nasal mucus and even breast milk and constitutes a major element in the body’s innate immune defense. Lysozyme was also one of the first proteins and the very first enzyme to have its three dimensional structure elucidated in the 60s through painstaking X-ray crystallography work by David Phillips. The coordinates obtained were used here to create the initial 3D model of the protein which was then 3D printed in plastic, post processed and then recast in clear lead glass using direct lost-PLA casting. Many bacteria implicated in human disease have a protective cell wall. Lysozyme is an enzyme which digests these carbohydrate barriers, thereby significantly weakening the potential intruders. The carbohydrate, part of which is cast here in bronze, fits tightly into the active site cleft of the Lysozyme enzyme. Deep inside that cleft the cleavage reaction takes place, catalysed by the protein. After cleavage Lysozyme releases both parts and moves on to a new cleavage site, gradually breaking down the cell wall. Discovery of the atom structure led to the first detailed enzymatic mechanism to be described and was a major breakthrough in our understanding of how our bodies’ metabolic functions.
"Tears" - Lysozyme with carbohydrate
 
"Portal" - Bacterial Porin
Copper, Steel, Wenge Wood - 12"x12"x24"
2012 - Currently at Hutchinson Cancer Institute, Seattle

The boundary of cellular life, which delineates the living chemistry from its surroundings, was among the most important fundamental inventions of evolution eons ago. Protein channels span these molecular castle walls and regulate the diffusional traffic of molecules trying to enter or leave the cell. One class of these molecular gatekeepers are the Porins, beta-barrel proteins that are situated in the outer membranes of cells or organelles such as human mitochondria. The Porin channel is partially blocked by a loop, called the eyelet, which projects into the cavity and defines the size of solute that can traverse the channel. Porins can be chemically selective, they can transport only one group of molecules, or may be specific to one molecule. For example, for antibiotics to be effective against a bacterium, it must often pass through an outer membrane Porin. Bacteria can develop resistance to the antibiotic by mutating the gene that encodes the Porin – the antibiotic is then excluded from passing through the outer membrane. The scale used in this sculpture is 2.5 inch/nm (a magnification factor of 63 million). At this magnification a grain of rice would roughly span the distance between Seattle and Portland.
"Portal" - Bacterial Porin
 
 
 
 
The Annealing - DNA
Cast glass, Cast bronze, Vera wood - 16"x9"x11"
2016

Two short complementary DNA strands have found each other and are annealing together to form one double-stranded DNA molecule. The ability of DNA to stick to itself in an extremely specific manner, like a programmable velcro, has been of great interest to research interested in developing nanomaterials. A huge variety of shapes, lattices, even small molecular machines can be constructed using DNA - the amazing thing is that the components can simply all be combined in solution and the structure builds itself. This has no equivalent in our macroscopic world. Throwing the parts of a kid’s puzzle into a tumble dryer would hardly result in the puzzle being solved. Yet at the microscopic scale the rules are different. Proteins exhibit a similar ability to fold themselves and assemble into larger complexes. This sort of self assembly is at the base of life itself; its parts constantly self assemble into working nanomachines which catalyse and manipulate other parts of living cells.
"The Annealing" - DNA
 
 
 
"Synaptic Kiss" - MHC and TCR
Cast glass, Cast aluminum
2016

One of the most important parts of the human immune system is the interaction between the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) and the T-Cell receptor. The MHC is found on the surface of normal cells and special antigen presenting cells. The MHC presents on its surface small peptides which are small digested bits of proteins. The T-Cell scans these presented fragments using its receptor looking for any fragment that might be foreign. If an unauthorized sequence is detected it indicates that an intruding organism has entered the body and an immune response is mounted against any other cells showing the same signature. This is particularly important in fighting viral infection. Since viruses do not have their own metabolism they are difficult to “kill”. Instead their replication cycle is interrupted by circulating T-cells actively killing human host cells which are infected (and will betray their infection using the MHC-TCR mechanism). There is a tight lock-and-key fit between MHC and TCR - a delicate and intimate interaction between two molecules whose surfaces are highly complementary. The peptide itself is cast in aluminum while the two partners, each composed from two separate subunits, are cast in glass.
"Synaptic Kiss" - MHC and TCR
 
 
 
"Savior" - IgG
Copper, Steel, Gold/Chrome plating - 56"x50"x18"
2013 - Hutchinson Institute

The machinery of life, an inevitably complex system, must constantly defend itself from intrusion and subversion by other agents inhabiting the biosphere. Ever more intricate systems for the detection and thwarting of intruding foreign life forms have evolved over the eons, culminating in adaptive immunity with one of its centerpieces: The Antibody. Also known as Immunoglobulin, this pronged, Y-shaped protein structure is capable of binding, blocking and neutralizing foreign objects such as as bacteria or viruses. The two tips of the Y have special patches which can tightly recognize and bind a target. Our body generates astronomical numbers of variants, each recognizing a different shape. The variety is so great that completely alien molecules can be recognized even though the body has never encountered them before. Once bound, the antibody blocks the function of the foreign object by physically occluding its functional parts. The Antibody sacrifices itself in the process but not before signalling to the immune system to make more of its specific variant form. After the intruder in question has been fought off, memory cells remain in the bloodstream that can quickly be reactivated should reinfection occur to produce more of the successful variant Antibody.
"Savior" - IgG
 
 
 
 
 
DNA Study 1
Cast lead glass, Steel- 9"x7"x4"
2015

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a two-stranded helical polymer which is used by virtually all known forms of life to encode genetic information. It is composed of repeating units called nucleotides of which there are four variants: Adenosine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine (C) and Guanine (G). These are flat molecules which stack on top of each other like a set of double stairs, held together by a sugar-phosphate backbone which runs on the outside. This arrangement was famously discovered through work by Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, and James Watson. Critically, every A is paired with a T on the opposite strand and every G is paired with C. This means that each strand contains all the information needed to recreate the other, thus immediately suggesting a straightforward way in which the information could be copied. Indeed, during cell replication the strands separate and complex protein machinery rebuilds the opposite strand for each of the original single strands. Natural errors during this process lead to genetic drift and are a major component of the evolutionary forces that lead from the early simple organisms many billion years ago to the highly sophisticated ones found today. Shown here is a short section of double-stranded DNA (about 11 nucleotide units) which would be only 3.6 nanometers long in reality.
DNA Study I
KcsA Potassium Channel
Copper, Steel - 14"x14"x20"
2011

Potassium channels form potassium-selective pores that span cell membranes. They are the most widely distributed type of ion channel found in virtually all living organisms. The four identical subunits are situated in a four-fold symmetrical manner around a central pore, which allows potassium ions to pass freely. At the top of the structure, formed by four loops lining the pore, a selectivity filter is situated which prevents other ions (such as sodium ions) from passing. The correct ions are detected by their size and charge. Note that that no active pumping of ions occurs; it merely allows passive conductance of ions down the con-centration gradient between the two sides of the membrane. The KcsA is an archetypal membrane protein with eight tightly packed membrane-spanning a-helices. The four short helices in the center where the chain crosses half the membrane and then returns to the top are a more unusual feature.
KcsA Potassium Channel
 
 
 
 
 
"Prometheus"
Copper, Steel, Walnut, Gold/Chrome plating - 10"x6"x6"
2014 - Series of 3, private collection

It is a brave new world, moving from our mechanical world, born in the industrial revolution, to the biotechnological future. The gears of life are complex, encoded polymers, nano machines that create order out of disorder and harness the free energy of the sun to perpetuate the information they carry in to the unknown. Now, man begins to alter that very microscopic machinery that constitutes his existence, that gives rise to his consciousness out of inorganic matter, ever driven forward by his curiosity and desire to manipulate his surroundings and himself.
Prometheus
White-Chen catalyst
Cast lead glass, Steel, Magnets - 14"x12"x12"
2015, private collection

White-Chen catalyst
 
Inceptionism: Cities
Neural net, digital
2015

Inceptionism: Patterns
Neural net, digital, chance
2015

Inceptionism: Landscapes
Neural net, digital, chance
2015

Castles In The Sky With Diamonds
Neural net, Archival print, 60"x48"
2016

How We End Up At The End Of Life
Neural net, Archival print, 60"x48"
2016

Title generated by LSTM by Ross Goodwin.
Ground still state of God’s original brigade
Neural net, Archival print, 60"x48"
2016

Title generated by LSTM by Ross Goodwin.
Carboniferous Fantasy
Neural net, Archival print, 60"x48"
2016

Jurogumo
Neural net, Archival print, 38"x31"
2016

Mukade
Neural net, Archival print, 38"x31"
2016

Fabric Of Mind
Neural net, Archival print 100"x48"
2016

The Babylon Of The Blue Sun
Neural net, Archival print, 66"x50"
2016

Title generated by LSTM by Ross Goodwin.
The Fall
Neural net, Archival print, 71"x52"
2016

Title generated by LSTM by Ross Goodwin.
Here Was The Final Blind Hour
Neural net, Archival print, 74"x52"
2016

Title generated by LSTM by Ross Goodwin.
Bacchus
Neural net, Archival print, 21"x21"
2016

Style Is Violins
Neural net, Archival print, 21"x21"
2016

Cellism
Neural net, Archival print, 21"x21"
2016

Saxophone Dreams
Neural net, Archival print, 21"x21"
2016

Groovik’s Cube
2009-2014
Libery Science Center, NJ

Groovik’s Cube is a fully playable, 35ft-high sculpture inspired by the classic puzzle, Rubik’s Cube. It was built by Mike Tyka, Barry Brumitt and a team of artists and engineers from Seattle in 2009. It is, to our knowledge, the largest functional Rubik’s Cube structure in the world. Groovik’s Cube is controlled from 3 control stations that surround the main structure - each player is able to rotate only one axis, creating an entirely new, collaborative puzzle solving experience.

Groovik’s Cube offers a unique new playing mode where three players must collaborate to solve the classic Rubik’s cube puzzle. The cube is controlled via three touch screen interfaces located around the cube, with each interface capable of rotating only one axis of the cube - no single player can solve the cube alone. This innovative twist adds a completely new dimension to the game and turns the classic puzzle into a social game and a fascinating social spectacle.
Liberty Science Center, 2013, NJ
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Groovik’s Cube is built from a lightweight aluminum frame, covered in fabric, and illuminated from the inside by 2 kilowatts of high-power LEDs. It simulates the motion of an ordinary Rubik’s Cube by animating the rotations on the 54 "pixels" that comprise the cube. The total weight of the structure is around 2000 lbs and is designed such that participants may walk safely under the structure. The thin supports are virtually invisible from a distance, creating the magical illusion of a floating cube.
Liberty Science Center, NJ
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Pacific Science Center, 2011, Seattle
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Burning Man 2009, Nevada
Burning Man 2009, Nevada

Mike Tyka studied Biochemistry and Biotechnology at the University of Bristol. He obtained his PhD in Biophysics in 2007 and went on to work as a research fellow at the University of Washington and has been studying the structure and dynamics of protein molecules. In particular, he has been interested in protein folding and has been writing computer simulation software to better understand this fascinating process. Protein folding is the way our genetic code is interpreted from an abstract sequence of data into the functional enzymes and nano machines that drive our bodies. Mike currently works at Google in Seattle.

Mike became involved in creating sculpture and art in 2009 when he helped design and construct Groovik's Cube, a 35ft tall, functional, multi-player Rubik's cube. Since then he's co-founded ALTSpace, a shared art studio in Seattle, and started creating sculptures of protein folds. He hopes to capture some of the hidden beauty of these amazing molecules, make it accessible to the general public, and maybe act as inspiration for those who want to learn more about these fascinating molecules that make life possible.


For more information on the pieces or for commissions contact him at:

Email: mike.tyka@gmail.com