Scale Free Network is an Australian-based art-science collaborative originally founded by visual artist (Briony Barr) and microbial ecologist (Dr Gregory Crocetti), in collaboration with arts educator (Jacqueline Smith).
In 2008, SFN began creating interdisciplinary workshops and participatory installations for children and adults, combining both artistic and scientific themes. Focused on the microscopic world as a source of inspiration and wonder, SFN projects visualise and explore this invisible realm. Using interactive microscopes, projections from the micro-world, hands on sculpture and drawing techniques, the viewer-participant is asked not only to engage with what they are seeing, but also to question the human scale, from which they are so accustomed to seeing.
The Small Friends Books project was initiated by SFN in 2014. It brings together microbiologists, educators, writers, visual artists, science communicators and designers to produce illustrated science-adventure tales, inspired by the beneficial symbiosis (living together) of microbes with other larger life forms. SFN's first two award-winning books, The Squid, the Vibrio & the Moon and Zobi and the Zoox (co-created with Ailsa Wild and Aviva Reed) received critical acclaim, selling over 5000 copies combined.
In 2018, SFN began co-publishing the series with CSIRO Publishing, releasing revised, hard-cover versions of the first two titles, with two additional storybooks scheduled for publication in 2019 and 2020.
SFN’s multi-award-winning graphic novel ‘The Invisible War’ (co-created in 2016 with Ailsa Wild, Ben Hutchings and Jeremy Barr) is now available in North America, published by Graphic Universe.
Dr. Gregory Crocetti: Science Director
From 1993-2006, Gregory studied Biochemistry and Microbiology and then worked as a microbial ecologist at the University of Queensland (under the supervision of Prof. Linda Blackall), the University of New South Wales (with Prof. Staffan Kjelleberg’s at the CMBB). He also worked all-too-briefly with the awesome Agrigas team at the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Lund in Sweden.
In these roles, Gregory explored the identity and role of different microbes – particularly Bacteria and Archaea – from a range of environments, including: mouse intestines, stromatolites, seaweed. But mostly he researched the population dynamics of the bacteria involved in removing phosphate from wastewater (sewage).
Gregory now co-authors and co-publishes the Small Friends Books series, along with Scale Free Network collaborator, Briony Barr.
Briony Barr: Art Director
Briony Barr is a visual artist who regularly collaborates with science and scientists as part of her practice. A testament to this fact, she was recently appointed an honorary fellow of the School of Physics at The University of Melbourne. Since 2008, she has worked with the microbiologist Dr. Gregory Crocetti and fellow artist Jacqueline Smith as part of Scale Free Network: art-science collaborative. At the other end of the scale, she collaborates with astrophysicist Dr. Andrew Melatos (The University of Melbourne) on an ongoing project called Drawing on Complexity. This involves making rule-based, expanded drawings, involving many people and large amounts of coloured tape. The idea is to use the collaborative drawing process to explore the evolution of a complex system.
Since 2009, Briony has worked as a support staff and in-house artist at civic art studio – ArtPlay – run by the City of Melbourne - where she regularly facilitates and designs creative workshops for children and families.
Ailsa Wild is a writer-performer who creates fiction, non-fiction and physical theatre. Her memoir piece ‘Monsieur Gaulier takes a Class’ was published in Meanjin(#1, 2014). Ailsa is the writer on Arts Victoria funded theatre project, String Thing, a solo performance by Asking for Trouble, developed in 2014. Ailsa co-wrote and devised Asking for Trouble Physical Theatre’s two shows Bubblewrap and Boxes (2008) and Kapow! (2010). Both won Best Family Show in the Melbourne Fringe, received Arts Victoria, Touring Victoria funding and played in New Zealand, the UK and arts centres across Australia. Kapow! headlined the Sydney Children’s Festival 2014. Bubblewrap and Boxes played in New Zealand, the UK and arts centres across Australia.
Ailsa wrote The Squid, the Vibrio & the Moon (2014) and Zobi and the Zoox (2015) illustrated science adventure stories created and published by arts-science collective Scale Free Network.
Most recently, Ailsa has written the 10-book Squishy Taylor series, published in Australia by Hardie Grant Egmont.
Aviva Reed : illustrator
Some would call Aviva Reed an artist, others a scientist. Aviva describes herself as a visual ecologist and creative provocateur. She enjoys provoking thought, smashing paradigms and rebuilding them. She loves combining ideas and exploring concepts from multiple perspectives. Through her practice she seeks to evoke enchantment, cross-disciplinary thought, and to question status quo notions of normality.
Aviva has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science, a Masters of Education (in Environment) and has spent the past decade working as a professional artist. She has completed numerous bodies of work including drawings, paintings, mixed media and installation. Recent projects include illustrating science-adventure stories in collaboration with Melbourne-based art-science publisher, Scale Free Network, interpreting the history of evolution for a participatory landscape installation at Windgrove and interning at GASP, both in Tasmania. She has produced a series of artworks for the Jaliigirr Biodiversity Alliance (NSW), in response to community members’ sense of place, as well as undertaken two artist residencies; a Regional Arts Victoria extended artist-in-residency at Elmore Primary School exploring ecology through performance and a Laughing Waters residency, culminating in a body of work exhibited at Melbourne City Library titled The Symbiogenesis Project. In 2002, she co-founded Tasmanian-based Black Sassy Collective, an environmental art collective which exhibits annual collaborative exhibitions in Hobart, Tasmania.
PROFESSOR LINDA BLACKALL is a professor in microbial ecology who works at Swinburne University. Her main research interests are using microbes to promote environmental sustainability, understanding symbiotic associations (e.g. corals and their associated microbes), and generally studying microbes wherever they exist – which is everywhere! Her career began prior to the boom in technology/method development that has allowed us to comprehend the omnipresent profound role that microbes play on Earth. She has previously worked at James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, and for the Environmental Biotechnology CRC and the Advanced Water Management Centre, while based for over 20 years at the University of Queensland. Having been involved in the tertiary education sector since 1992, she has taught science, medicine, and engineering to students. She is passionate about trying to broaden the interests of these cohorts beyond their specific cognate disciplines so that they can be expansively engaged in the community and not confined to their 'ivory towers'. This does happen on some but not enough occasions. She would like to kindle the curious minds of the youngest learners so that some of them will embrace this notion...they will be shaping and driving policy soon enough.
Prof. Patricia Stock: scientific collaboator
Patricia Stock is a Professor at the University of Arizona, USA. Her expertise is in insect pathology, with a focus on parasitic nematodes. Her work centres on the diversity, evolutionary relationships and symbioses these parasites have with their eukaryotic hosts and bacterial symbiotic partners.