Thursday, 22 July 2010

Coming soon: Review of the Oddest Titled Book of the Year!

I've been poorly this week so no lab time... but the exciting news is that I have been awarded an Arts Council grant to work on a collection of biology-inspired short stories. I will be embedding in one or two more labs, too, that are engaged in biology-related research, to inspire my writing, and will report on that as it happens.

In the meantime, I received this gorgeous-looking book in the post last week and will be reviewing it here shortly. It is Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, by Daina Tamina, a maths professor at Cornell University, who I also hope to interview. How did I find this book? I saw the announcement that it had won the Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year! Yup, that makes sense. More on maths and yarn soon.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Tania Talks about Science

I was thrilled last week to be invited to take part  - along with Dr Ben Goldacre and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock - in a discussion on Radio 4's Off the Page program entitled "Blinded by Science". It was broadcast today at 1.30pm and is available on iPlayer for 7 more days.

I got the chance to talk about being writer-in-residence in the University labs, and I read out the first short story I've written inspired by being where science is done. Not sure what the scientists in the lab I am embedding in will make of it! (Comment here, guys, if you like...!)

Hope you enjoy it, I think it was an interesting discussion!

We Got Liminal....

I just wanted to write a quick blog about last week's Let's Get Liminal: Artistic Science and Scientific Art seminar (see previous blog post for details) which I found absolutely fascinating and I hope all those who came did too. The idea was to briefly showcase some of what's going on in Bristol University in that (liminal) "space between" arts and sciences - from the collaboration between a glaciologist and an artist, "artistic" images from research, and medical students' creative work about the practice of medicine.

Our visiting guest artists, Kira O'Reilly and Oron Catts, are in, it seems to me, another space entirely, a new and very exciting place where bioart is being done - artists learning about the tools used in biology labs and then using these methods and processes to produce art. 

The questions that Oron and Kira ask and then attempt to answer through their artworks are the basic questions of life that scientists  also ask. Kira, for example, says: What happens if I look at my own skin as just another type of material, just more stuff? (I am paraphrasing, forgive me). And she engages audiences with her installations, inviting them to also grapple with these issues. Oron - who gave us a detailed history of tissue culture, when it was first done and by whom - showed examples of how he and his collaborators have set up fully-functional labs in museum spaces to "grow" exhibits such as a leather jacket made from "victimless leather". 

It was a wide-ranging afternoon, and I found it both inspiring and moving, seeing these two monliths, ART and SCIENCE, so often kept apart by high walls and arbitrary definitions, actually merging harmoniously to produce something extraordinary which delights, informs and provokes. The first of many such meetings, I hope...!

Here are a few pictures of the proceedings (I didn't take pictures of every speaker - sometimes I was too engrossed and I forgot!):

Maggie Leggett, director of the University's Centre for Public Engagement, talks about plans for next year's Changing Perspectives exhibition in various Bristol galleries.

 Professor Jon Keating and Chrystal Chernwichan showed clips from the Mathematical Ethnographies films and the Science Faculty portraits, and talked about how people have reacted to using these media to put across something different about science - and about the concept of beauty and how it means something different, perhaps, to mathematicians and to artists!

Emily, a medical student, talks about a painting she did for the Creative Arts course she chose to take as part of her medical degree. I found it very moving, listening to her describe her painting of a woman with a spinal condition.

Dr Louise Younie (above) and Catherine Lamont-Robinson, artist and curator, talk about the Out of Our Heads project, showcasing creative work done by medical students. Louise talked about why she intiated the course and the hopes she has that integrating artistic practice into medical study will encourage greater empathy for patients amongst the medical students, who paint pictures, write poems, even create dance pieces inspired by their clinical practice.

Becky Jones showed us "beautiful" ( a word that had become a little controversial by this point in the seminar!) images from the labs which were entered for the 2009 Art of Science competition such as the one above, a confocal image showing communication between brain cells by Sam Lane. The 2010 competition opens shortly...

Dr Giles Brown and Emma Stibbon talked about their glacier-focused collaboration which resulted in artworks such as Emma's stunning picture, above, of the Aletsch Glacier. It was really interesting to hear how Emma went about researching her artworks, and that by drawing she is in many ways connected with the historical depictions of natural phenomena, harking back to the time before cameras, digital or otherwise. Giles pointed out that people approach and interact with Emma's 7ft drawing of a glacier hanging in his office in an entirely different way to the way they would approach a photograph of the same glacier.

Kira O'Reilly, giving us an overview of many of her astonishing and wonderfully provocative artworks and installations, and told us about her time in biology labs - how she tried to do inject something different into the atmosphere, wearing a striking crimson lab coat, for example!

Oron Catts introducing SymbioticA, A Centre of Excellent in Biological Arts, which runs workshops worldwide for artists, and invites artists to do residencies in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at The University of Western Australia ... and even grants degrees in biological arts, making it unique. He was asked afterwards whether he wouldn't describe himself as a scientist, given the lab-based work he does, but he answered that he far preferred to be described as an artist. Another interesting issue to think about...

I don't think anyone would have failed to be stirred in some way by all these presentations. It caused me to look at my time in the labs in a different way, perhaps more visual... and so here's a little "art" of my own. I took this yesterday: What is it?! Leave a comment and the best answer wins... well, much glory!