Microworld reflections

James R. Smith (Photographer)

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


Microscope images have long captured the imagination of the public, providing a valuable link between scientific and lay communities. The purpose of this 12 month-project is to liaise with artists to produce works that are quite different to the micrographs from which they are derived, to allow their wider appreciation to non-scientific audiences. For example, the sense of scale and magnification are not always apparent to the uninitiated; the form of the micrograph, particularly those from the electron microscope, can also feel ‘scientific’. The pseudo-three dimensional rendering and the more widely used palettes of atomic force microscope (AFM) images, however, offer some improvement, although the significance and underlying concepts of the images remain esoteric.
The idea of using art to 'respond' to micrographs was partially inspired through a connection with Jacqui Lea of Hopeweavers, Southampton, UK. This faith-based organisation offers spiritual direction and fellowship for people of all faiths and of none. Creativity is an important part of their ministry. Hopeweavers provide tutors and support for a community based art group, Thornhill Art Group (TAG), offering a creative/learning resource to local people on an estate of social housing, on the Portsmouth side of outer Southampton. Thornhill has benefitted from urban regeneration money over the years and has a large number of walk-up blocks. Other inspirations stem from difficulties in the perception of some microscope images and the numerous unanswered questions they pose.
In this project, AFM images of hair and DNA, obtained from the University of Portsmouth, will be used, since these materials are of public interest and offer a wealth of structural complexity. In the case of hair, for example, despite decades of research, a detailed understanding of the sub-layers necessary for the development of cosmetic treatments has remained fairly elusive. DNA-protein interactions are of interest in genetic engineering, where future tailor-made medicines are anticipated. DNA and hair also elicit emotive responses due to their contribution of ‘self’. Images will be selected based on their best conveyance of scientific concepts, such as scale, processes, disease states, complexity, orientation, fine structure, and other information, such as inheritance, origin and age.
Artists will be given the micrographs and after a short briefing/consultation period (a few weeks), will be left to produce artworks from the images. The artists will be predominantly from Hopeweavers, who use a variety of media, sometimes encompassing a spiritual dimension to their work. To clarify, the spirituality in question may or may not reflect a relationship with a divine creator, although promotion of a creationist agenda (e.g., proof of God through bacteria flagella) is certainly not the motive. Rather, a fascination of the intricacies of life, our uniqueness and value that may elicit a variety of emotions, perhaps including those of a religious nature, is the anticipated outcome.
A recent development in the project is the provision of artistic responses in the form of music. Jacqui Smith is currently writing some compositions, mainly for flute.
In summary, it is expected that the project will provide a number of different artistic responses that are ‘beyond’ simple 2D- or 3D-representations of the micrographs. This approach will undoubtedly offer new insights and interests, allowing wider public engagement.
The beneficiaries of the work will be scientific, artistic, faith and general public communities, both locally, including TAG members and others within the Thornhill area, and internationally. This will be achieved through production of artworks, visits, exhibitions and web-based media.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014
EventExhibition of Artworks from Royal Microscopy Society Vice-Presidents Award Fund - St Luke's Church, Hedge End, Hedge End, United Kingdom
Duration: 28 Feb 20142 Mar 2014


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