Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?
Bryony Benge-Abbott: I am a practicing artist (I have a BA in fine art) but I also have an MA in Museology (museum theory) and for the past ten years have curated and project managed exhibitions across London. These have largely involved working with social history collections, however more recently I spent two years working with the medical collections at Wellcome before joining biomedical research facility the Francis Crick Institute to set up its exhibition programme. I have a keen interest in visual storytelling, and am always seeking new ways to weave multiple and often complex narratives into exhibitions that are both inspiring and inclusive. As I do not come from a science background, I see my role at the Crick as someone who helps to translate the fascinating but sometimes quite abstract research into accessible, engaging and relatable storytelling.
RB: As curator and project manager of the Deconstructing Patterns commission/exhibition, what are your aims?
BB-A: I decided that I wanted to take on the challenge of curating this exhibition, not just project managing it. This was partly because the theme of patterns is so fascinating to me, artistically, so the opportunity to discover and research new patterns studied within the building in which I work – patterns invisible to the human eye but absolutely fundamental to our development – was one that I couldn’t resist.
I also wanted to run an experiment in the very early stages of developing the Crick’s exhibition programme, to find out what would happen if we brought new voices into the exhibition space to probe and ask questions of the research, to start new conversations and co-create alternative ways of accessing the science. I was interested to discover what new insights would be generated (for the Crick as a whole, for featured researchers, and of course for our visitors) and whether this art/science exchange would engage or attract different audiences for the Crick – those who perhaps think “science isn’t for me”. By bringing these two disciplines together, we have started to explore different ways that art and science can articulate and visualise the abstract, minute patterns that are fundamental to our existence. We have also created space within which crossovers between art and science can be explored, such as the role of imagination and creativity, and exhibition visitors can listen in on some of the conversations that took place between the groups of artists and scientists, which reveal the mutual interest in and respect for each other’s work that emerged as the project evolved.
I hope that visitors coming to the exhibition will enjoy a new insight into the world of patterns on a microscopic level, one that challenges their expectations of what a pattern is, gives them an understanding of the fundamental nature of research at the Crick, and connects this research with a natural curiosity about their own biology.
RB: What questions do you want to address in this project that could not be addressed before?
BB-A: Our first exhibition, ‘Open for Discovery: Step inside the scientific mind of the Crick’ offered a more general introduction to discovery science and explored the heritage and future aims of the new institute. In ‘Deconstructing Patterns’, we have the opportunity to encourage the visitor to think about the role that cellular and molecular patterns play in their own health and development, and in doing so we hopefully explain why Crick scientists are dedicating years – even decades – of their professional lives to understanding their form and function.
Deconstructing patterns: art and science in conversation
The Francis Crick Institute
1 Midland Road, London, NW1 1AT
1 February – 1 December 2018
Wednesdays 10am – 8pm
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 10am – 4pm
Deconstructing patterns is the first exhibition at the The Francis Crick Institute with new collaborations between scientists and artists in the field of sculpture, film and spoken word. Whilst we are surrounded by patterns we can see with the naked-eye, this exhibition provides an introduction to the surprising and beautiful world of microscopic patterns that can only be revealed by powerful tools and technologies. Some of the forms and shapes may not be immediately recognisable but they are fundamental to all living organisms.
Presented over three ‘zones’, Deconstructing patterns explores different molecular and cellular patterns studied at the Crick, each one introduced by a unique artist commission. The artworks offer an alternative way of visualising and describing the forms and functions that so intrigue our scientists. Within each zone, visitors can listen in on conversations between artists and scientists as they reflect on different ways of seeing.
In Infinite Instructions, DNA research and the search for the patterns amongst huge genomic data sets provide the starting point for an immersive sound installation by the award-winning poet, Sarah Howe and sound artist, Chu-Li Shewring – developed in conversation with the Advanced Sequencing facility at the Crick.
The intersection between art and science is a recurring theme for Australian artist, Helen Pynor. For the zone titled Transforming Connections, she has created a mesmerising installation that combines light, photography and sculpture to explore the movement of patterns during the metamorphosis of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The commission is based on the work of the Visual Circuits Assembly Laboratory, who are investigating the development of the optic lobe of the fruit fly.
The concluding zone Breaking Symmetry challenges our understanding of patterns even further, highlighting the creativity inherent in asymmetry, which is essential to the healthy development of all organisms. The Polarity and Networks Laboratory worked closely with young people on a summer filmmaking project at Holborn Community Association. The result is a wonderfully surreal fictional narrative created by the students, which offers a metaphor for the lab’s research into the first appearance of asymmetry in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis Elegans.
Placing discussions between artist and scientist at the heart of this exhibition offers a unique route in to understanding the fundamental role that patterns play in the growth and development of our own bodies. Deconstructing patterns also provides a window to the pioneering research carried out at the Crick.
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