First art exhibition on Mad Cow Disease to take place at London's Hayward Gallery

By Ben Miller | 30 January 2015

"Compelling and unsettling" story to be reassessed as part of History is Now exhibition worked on by scientists

A photo of a man sitting at a table eating a burger wearing a suit with blonde hair
Jørgen Leth and Ole John, My Name is Andy Warhol. From 66 Scenes from America (66 scener fra America) (1982)© Courtesy Jørgen Leth, Ole John 1982/2014, courtesy Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen
A “multi-layered” display is about to become the first art exhibition to take Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy – the fatal brain and spine degeneration in cattle which caused British beef to be banned from European export for ten years – as its theme, opening at the Hayward Gallery next month.

Roger Hiorns, the 2009 Turner Prize nominee known to use blue crystals, naked men and burning benches, has charted the epidemic in a collage telling the “remarkable” story of a three-decade crisis. Supported by science-art funding from the Wellcome Trust, the artist will also look at the human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

"I was a student at the time when the press revealed the crisis of BSE and its link to vCJD,” says Hiorns, who has worked with scientists to curate a section of the gallery’s History is Now series channelling issues of biomedicine, agriculture, animal husbandry, food production and consumption.

“Being part of an at-risk generation created an unusual and tense social environment where a generation found themselves connected by a collective sense of medical potential and dread.

“Studying the crisis in finer detail over the last year, some 20 years on, has revealed to me the troubling, and pervasively lasting effect these two brain diseases have had on our past and on the future of international medical science, politics, culture and the wider society.

“It feels like the time is right for a reassessment."
Damien Hirst’s Out of Sight. Out of Mind, from 1991, and Gustav Metzger’s Mad Cow Slide Talk, of five years later, are two of the accompanying exhibits. Excerpts from a cattle passport, media clips, committee reports and a 3D-printed model of the infectious prion protein have also been procured.

“The story of BSE is a compelling and unsettling narrative that deserves to be told,” believes Dr Cliff Lauson, the Curator for the gallery.

“History is Now will bring together original and unexpected groupings of objects that will shed new light on how we remember and reconsider our recent past.

“Roger Hiorns has used this opportunity to create a bold and unprecedented examination of a dark episode in recent British history.”

  • History Is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain runs from February 10 – April 26 2015.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A black and white photo of a man and a woman sitting in a field having a picnic
Tony Ray-Jones, Picnic, Glyndebourne (1967)© National Media Museum Science / Society Picture Library
A photo of various pharmaceutical capsules and boxes on a white surface
Prionics Ag Switzerland Prionics®-Check WESTERN Kit, Article 12000: Test for in-vitro detection of TSE-related PrPSc in cattle© Courtesy Celtic Diagnostics Limited. Photo: Roger Wooldridge
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