Last Chance To See Art & Science Collide At Brighton Media Centre

By Jody East | 26 October 2004
Shows a composite photograph. The image depicts a man wearing glasses and appears blurred.

Detail from Hybrid One: Ten, a composite portrait of ten members of the scientific team.

Jody East made her way to the Friese Green Gallery to see what happens when art and science collide.

A collaboration between artist Heather Barnett and a group of university scientists has resulted in an exhibition that explores design and transformation in biological research.

Showing at the Friese Green Gallery, Brighton Media Centre until October 31 the exhibition attempts to capture the excitement of working in contemporary biology and is a fascinating mix of visual and sound media.

Over the past eight years Heather has worked with scientists working in medicine, botany and geology. Her latest work, Metamorphosis and Design is a response to a year spent with four teams of scientific researchers from the University of Sussex.

Shows a design for wallpaper incorporating images of fruitflies and cuttlefish.

A wallpaper design using images of fruitflies and cuttlefish.

"I’ve been working with very clever people who are doing interesting things – it really challenged my perception of scientists," she said.

The first room of the exhibition hosts a range of different projects. There is a spoof manual for fruit-fly enthusiasts, which also highlights the fascination felt by scientists working on the genetics of a fruitfly.

Rules of Design is made up of various drawings by scientists involved in the project, some lunchtime scribbles during conversations with Heather, others part of early developments of projects such as Designing a Fruitfly Breeding Programme.

Shows a video still of various cuttlefish swimming in a tank.

Heather filmed cuttlefish at Brighton Sea Life Centre, observing how they change the pattern, form and colour on their backs in response to environment and to communicate.

During the collaboration, Heather was present for the highs and lows of scientific research. She conveys this through a multi-track sound installation featuring the voices of the scientists describing moments of excitement and frustration in their work.

"There was a certain worry at sharing red hot results with an outsider before publishing them," said Dr Robert Whittle, project manager and geneticist, "but there was real excitement when they were given the opportunity to talk about their work."

The exhibition brings together diverse biological research. Cuttlefish would appear to have little in common with nanofibres but Heather links them through the theme of design and transformation.

Microscopic nanofibres become the basis for the design of wallpaper and the significance of colour and patterns to cuttlefish is the subject of a short film.

Shows three composite photographs of male faces, laid out in a row and against a patterned background.

A wallpaper design using microscopic images of nanofibres, reflecting the symbols of scaffold and building blocks and three composite portraits of three of the reseach teams.

Would an average evolutionary biologist differ much from the average drosophila geneticist? A survey assessing the facial characteristics of members of each scientific team in relation to their research area attempts to discover the answer.

Heather has photographed each of the research teams and produced composite portraits showing an average face for each group.

The exhibition raises the question of how effective art is as a vehicle for the communication of scientific ideas.

Whether scientists would agree that it is or not, for someone without a scientific background it certainly gives a refreshing and original insight into the world of biological research.

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