ON VIEW | INTERVIEW
"SPARE PARTS" at Science Gallery London
By Marnie Benney, SciArt Curator & Innovation Consultant
Now on view at Science Gallery London is "SPARE PARTS," a group exhibition exploring the idea of human repair and alteration. Open through May 12, 2019, this show is the second exhibition at Science Gallery's newest location in partnership with King's College London.
Artists/collaborators in this exhibit include Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr, Michael Bianco, John A. Douglas, Salome Bazin, Pablo Lamata, Francois Joseph-Lapointe, Marianne Cloutier, Tabatha Andrews, Victoria Oruwari, Agi Halnes, Tim Wainwright, John Wynne, Amy Congdon, Michael Pinsky, Burton Nitta, Tina Gorjanc, Antye Guenther, and Svenja Kratz.
We chatted with the show's curator, Stephanie Delcroix, about how this exhibit came together:
Marnie Benney: You have selected an array of projects that explore the future of medical engineering - some projects use technology to connect the audience to their bodies (Big Heart Data and Life Pulse), some use human skill to help the body regenerate itself (Crafting the Body), and in some the artist and technology co-create (Ghost Writer). Can you explain how you selected these projects? What was important for you as the curator to represent in this exhibition?
Stephanie Delcroix: It was important to me to show the work of artists and designers who are approaching the body from a non-typical and often unexpected perspective, built on a long-term inquiry about the nature of the human body and life. Most of the selected projects are creatively and critically engaging with current scientific research and medical practice and its possible futures. We also wanted to present a range of voices, and did this by selecting work which was either collaborative or whose content relays the voices the patient or the scientist.
Each Science Gallery exhibit places a big emphasis on the voices of the different contributors to that season, including the voice of our visitors, who we proactively involve. This involvement includes discussions around the projects and artworks, research through their interaction with the gallery mediators, and their participation in our activities and events.
MB: This exhibit is special because it incorporates a makerspace and programming as much as it does the artwork displayed in the show. Can you tell us more about The Gut - the space you made for “live research projects, and for sharing skills, opinions and disciplines”? Why was this important for you to have it the show, and why did you select the particular contributors you did? What is the ideal outcome of The Gut?
SD: The Gut was curated by Production Assistant Jessie Krish. The Gut, and the activities that visitors can engage with in it, were designed with the common principle of engaging visitors' sense of their own agency in the discussions that "SPARE PARTS" raises. Jessie wanted to create a space within the exhibition in which the academic community could contribute to a public conversation, and the public could enter the conversation on their own terms, and take a stake in an area of science that is quickly transforming aspects of daily life.
We selected and developed a range of artworks, research projects, and other activities that could provide a range of opportunities for visitors to both 'think' and 'do' across disciplines. All activity in The Gut centers around a large wooden 'kitchen table'.
We were interested in projects in which biotechnology interfaced with domestic life – for example, sewing, reading, gardening. We were also interested in emerging technologies that are easily accessible, and highlighting the prevalence of open-source softwares and data in this field.
Many of the projects invite audiences to participate in a larger project or process, whether this is a small contribution to a study that will be completed after the exhibition ends, or a verbal contribution that is archived in a zine. We are interested in collaborative inquiry (which all scientific inquiry is), and engaging visitors in a process that goes beyond the individual. Activities in The Gut have included 3D-printing mini-organs, cactus-grafting and sewing electrodes as part of ongoing research into low-cost prostheses by King’s College London PhD student Samuel Pitou.
The artworks in The Gut - Fecal Microbiota Transplant Shipment Map and SuperTurd! by Caitlin Foley and Misha Rabinovich - also take up the theme of open-source, crowd funded research by highlighting the emergence of non-profit stool banks that are soliciting fecal samples from volunteer participants, and redistributing them for new clinical therapies that center around the human microbiome.
These hands-on entry-points to regenerative medicine are supplemented with a wall of critical writing for visitors to browse. Short extracts from books, academic essays, and news media open up discussions related to the questions raised by the exhibition.
'Sharing' as the lynchpin of knowledge exchange underpins everything that happens in The Gut. The ideal outcome is that visitors engage with the questions that contemporary regenerative medicine raises on their own terms, and in doing so situate this area of research in relation to their own experiences, opinions, and lives! We hope that most visitors will have a conversation with somebody new, and be challenged by something they didn't know about, or a perspective they hadn't previously considered. We are lucky to have gallery Mediators who facilitate all of these interactions, bringing The Gut and the rest of the "SPARE PARTS" exhibition to life. We know that we're on our way to realizing our aims when visitors stay for a while, reading, sewing, talking, or sharing bacteria whilst playing the SuperTurd! card game.
MB: At SciArt we are always interested in learning more about art and science collaborations. Can you talk about the process in which the artists and designers were “informed by conversations and collaborations with leading academics” of King’s College London? As the curator did you facilitate this? How long were the artists/designers and scientists working together for a before the show? Did they continue to work together after the exhibit?
SD: For some of the collaborations, "SPARE PARTS" is a window onto an ongoing and long-standing shared interest. For example, textile artist Amy Congdon and Professor Lucy Di-Silvio have had a working relationship for eight years now. Lucy has become of one Amy’s PhD supervisors.
Science Gallery London is part of King’s College London, giving us great connections to the ongoing research happening at the university. In the case of the collaboration between Salomé Bazin and Dr. Pablo Lamata for example, their collaboration was facilitated by us and our own relationship with the Centre for Medical Imaging at King’s. Salomé and Pablo are now exploring their collaboration, and the interface they conceived as a prototype and will hopefully develop further in the near future. Their project, Big Heart Data has been pre-selected for a couple of well-known events in the art and science sphere, so there is some scope for their joint work to carry on should funding become available. Another example is Tabatha Andrews, whose performative work, Antiphon, was developed through a King’s College London collaboration called Call and Response with developmental biologist and Professor Andrea Streit from the Streit Lab at King’s.