CIIE and ASCUS Sci-Art Project

In 2015 scientists at CIIE have embarked on a new and exciting public engagement project. Working in collaboration with ASCUS Art & Science we have brought four artists to Ashworth Laboratories, to explore scientists' work and environment. Our aim was for them to serve as messengers between scientists and general public, by creating artwork that would inform about the current research carried out in CIIE.

The programme of three micro-residencies was put together and managed in partnership with ASCUS Art & Science. We reached out to the general public to encourage understanding of current scientific research, but on top of that we provided incentives for cross-disciplinary collaboration – the concept at the core of the Centre – reaching out beyond sciences and encouraging collaboration between scientists and artists. We believe that forging links between researchers and artists helps to foster stimulating artistic works, which help to engage new audiences through new perspectives. Our project also served as a showcase of how successful interdisciplinary scientific collaboration can be.

Four artists spent fourteen days of contact time mingling with the Ashworthians; attending seminars and symposia, visiting labs, discussing the science and socialising during coffee breaks and happy hours. Participating artists were as follows: mixed media artist Mark Doyle, filmmaker Anne Milne and multi-disciplinary collaborative duo Jo Hodges & Robbie Coleman. Throughout the duration of the project we were reporting on how the micro-residencies unfolded.

The artwork created was then presented at an arts exhibition called “Transmissions” (part of a wider ASCUS-curated "Parallel Perspectives") in Edinburgh’s most vibrant arts hub, Summerhall, during the Edinburgh International Science Festival and attracted on average almost 1000 visitors per week.


ASCUS at the EISF 2015. Parallel Perspectives Exhibition from ASCUS Art & Science on Vimeo.

We have encouraged the artists to look at the CIIE research as a whole as well as focus on specific research areas. As a result the artwork created was varied and inspired by different aspects of CIIE science.

Mark Doyle has become immersed in the microscopic alien world that is the root cause of malaria. The quest to better understand the biology and behaviour of Plasmodium parasites and the anopheles mosquito has provided him with the context for his work. Through the reconfiguration and collaging of lab equipment used for the study of infected blood, Doyle has created a series of sculptural pieces that simultaneously reference the internal landscape of the host’s body and the external man-made environment that all too often provides a fertile breeding ground for disease. He has also produced a series of prints and blind embossings that explore the relationship between the organic microscopic world and our ability to observe and document it using photographic and digital imaging techniques.

© Diego Almazán de Pablo

Research into the prediction of emerging diseases, the adaptive strategies of pathogens and the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, has informed Robbie Coleman’s and Jo Hodges’ exploration of the wider implications of human co-existence with microbial life. Their resulting work considers two different pathogens; severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Using out of gallery interventions, manipulated objects and speculative design, Coleman and Hodges explore the transmission of these pathogens in both historical and contemporary cultural settings. In illuminating aspects of the microbiology and ecology of these microscopic organisms, they also shed light on how contemporary society continues to be challenged by the evolution of the microbiological world.

© Diego Almazán de Pablo

During her residency, Anne Milne became curious about the life cycle of pathogens, the unseen part of disease and epidemic. She delved into the strategies pathogens use for survival, the relationships between themselves and their host, and in the case of the malarial parasite, the complex relationship with their vector, the mosquito. Through this research she uncovered the many things single cell organisms have in common with the rest of the living world, particularly their main goal to replicate by competing with others, avoiding predators, negotiating and in some cases, altering their environments in order to succeed. As a filmmaker, it is a challenge to represent the unseen. Using the microscopic organism as a metaphor for alien invasion, Milne has created a fantastical, other worldly journey of an imaginary, mysterious being which has come to Earth looking for a host. In her second film, Milne has put the scientists themselves under the microscope allowing for another element of the unseen to emerge.

© Diego Almazán de Pablo

After the Festival the artwork had been on loan to LifeSpace at the University of Dundee as part of their exhibition "Transmissions: Exploring the Microbial World". At the end of the exhibition period a discussion event about art, design and microbial resistance was organised and attracted ~30 people from across UoD Life Sciences and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, where the specific questions about how the attendees responded to the artwork were posed.

The prints depicting the artwork and the artwork itself was presented during Explorathon at Edinburgh Zoo and Doors Open Day in Ashworth Labs. Both events involved general public being engaged through direct interactions with the CIIE Manager who took up the role of a curator/invigilator on both occasions. At Doors Open Day the public was also encouraged to present feedback in writing.

© Diego Almazán de Pablo

The artwork was then presented in the ECA’s own art gallery, based on the ground floor of the Evolution House (West Port, right in the city centre of Edinburgh). The gallery is used by the students working on ECA’s programme Art, Space & Nature. The gallery offers a unique opportunity for the passer-by to have a peak-in since it’s based in a glassed ground-floor venue. One of the films created during the residencies has been showcased on the loop all day and the other pieces of artwork were visible from the street.

A conversation/discussion event was organised for ECA students (~30 attendees) creating the opportunity for posing questions about how the arts students responded to the artwork/projects.

© Emily Grieve