1 April 2015 16:58

Science and art are often thought to be polar opposites – so why did a group of artists attend lab sessions at Lancaster University?

Twelve artists and researchers from across the country visited the Department of Biomedical and Life Sciences (BLS) to work alongside scientists in the biomedical research laboratory to provide both with new perspectives.

Inés Cámara, who is studying for her masters in Fine Art at the Wimbledon College of Art, said that art and science have more in common than most people realise.

“I have always been fascinated with the unseen and invisible. Art, as a field of knowledge, recognises that there is more than that which meets the eye, and artists like Chris Burden, Yves Klein and Maurizio Cattelan do so in their work. But science also acknowledges this and microbes are a perfect example, which is why I was drawn to the ‘Microbes as Material’ workshop.

“I had never been in a wet lab environment and I was unaware of the behaviour that bacteria have. 

“The importance of quorum sensing, which enables bacteria to co-ordinate their behaviour, has definitely had an impact on the way that I understand microbes and therefore how I will deal with unseen structures in my future work.”

Organised by Dr Rod Dillon and Dr Jackie Parry, senior lecturers in the Department of Biomedical and Life Sciences, the programme was a collaboration with Insight, a creative research centre at the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts (LICA), Live at LICA and cutting-edge arts organisations, such as Abandon Normal Devices.

Dr Rod Dillon said: “This sort of workshop was designed to encourage the conversation about the rapid advances in biomedical research and synthetic biology as well as discuss the ethical dilemmas and challenges that will confront us.

“It was great to host this event with such a mix of amazing artists and provide them with a glimpse inside our world. It certainly fired my imagination to think of future possibilities of working with these people.”

The workshop took place over two days in the BLS microbiology labs and in the Peter Scott gallery at Live at LICA. The artists attended hands-on ‘wet lab’ sessions to learn about the basic theory and practice of microbiology as well as discussing the nature of art-science collaborations in groups.

Dr Jackie Parry said: “This was my first experience of working with artists and it was a lot easier, and more enjoyable, than I’d anticipated.

“I was impressed by the way each artist translated ‘microbial communication’ (which can be visualised in a Petri dish) into macro forms of communication, and how they demonstrated these with their own microbial artworks.”