Our Atopic Art Micro-Residency started out with introductions and conversations on the train as we travelled northwards across the Firth of Forth with artists Beverley Hood and Gordon Douglas for the beginning of this new residency at Professor Sara Brown’s skin genetic research laboratory, at the University of Dundee. We navigated our way across Dundee City finally reaching our destination at the doors of the Jacqui Wood Cancer Centre*, at Ninewells Hospital, where we were greeted by Professor Sara Brown.
*The Jacqui Wood centre is named in memory of Jacqui Wood the Chairman of the Ninewells Cancer Campaign from its foundation in 1991 who was well known for her long-standing commitment to help further the cause of cancer research to improve the lives of others.
We spent the first day meandering along the labyrinth of hallways, staircases and rooms across the Clinical Reasearch Centre and Ninewells Hospital, visiting Brown Lab, Sara’s adult and children’s clinics and the Medical History Museum displays, attempting to get to grips with the vast landscape of the hospital buidings.
This was followed by presentations from Beverley and Gordon, sharing the different aspects of their creative pratice with researchers working across skin disease at the Clinical Research Centre. Beverley spoke about her interest in exploring the cells Sara and her team work with and Gordon spoke about his interest in inherited medical histories, family histories and their relationship to genes.
The resulting converations were a mixture of intrigue and enquiry raisinging questions about what makes art valuable with Beverley commenting ‘In order to have value art doesn’t have to be perfect, good art is about highlighting questions, showing process and insight.’ This stimulated further discussion about how language crosses over between art and science, highlighting the jargon that prevails in both disciplines, asking how this communication barrier is overcome?
Conversations travelled on to topics around the influence of technology and data collection in art, science and society, resulting in more quesitons and enquiry: What does technology add but also take away? What does data really mean and what data definitions and parameters are in place?
The researchers then went on to share the challenges they face doing the work that they do. Brown Lab techincian Shiela Wright likened lab work to that of chef perfecting a recipe ‘Labwork is like cookery, you have to tweak things until you can optimize them, then you have to reproduce and repeat.’ She also spoke in more detail about the organotypic skin cultures that they make in the lab referring to this as artificial skin ‘We want to make our skin as close to skin as possible… this means compromising, we need to be aware of the limitations. Bottom line the skin we create in the lab is not skin, and we need to bare this in mind’
Sara Brown also shared her thoughts on the particular challenges scientists face of dealing with uncertainty day in day out ‘Doing this work we need to tolerate uncertainty. Different people have different tolerances for this. GP’s need to deal with a high level of uncertainty… that awareness of the level of uncertainty you can tolerate is really important.’
Chris Cole, Brown lab’s Biointormatician commented on this element of uncertaintity in relation to his work analysising and visualising data: ‘The way an expermiment is designed is to show an uncertain result. There needs to be a certain amount of uncertainty for the results to be real… you need to expect uncertainty and work with it.’
Our first week continued with a intriguing tours around the Zooolgy Museum and University of Dundee’s collections with Mattew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services, as well as a visit to the College of Life Sciences and a tour around the lastest exhibit at LifeSpace Art Science Research Gallery with Dr Sarah Cook, Curator, Dundee Fellow at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design.
The week wrapped up with Sara’s team talking us through the different work that they do as part of the research team in Brown Lab doing skin genetic research into eczema. Sheila demonstrated part of the lengthy and precise process of growing this artificial skin in the lab as well as showing Beverley and Gordon the imagaing techniques that they use to observe the skin samples and monitor the cells at different stages. Lynda Weir talked us through a detailed description of the physical make up of skin and how this translates and reflects the skin construct they grow and work on as part of their skin genetic experiemtents.
To finish the day bioinformatition Chris Cole talked the artists through the immersive and complex work that he does visualising and anylising data from Sara’s research and studies, explaining the nitty gritting of the systems and softwares he uses, how experiemnts are designed and how the process works.
As this first week came to an end, our minds were filled with new thoughts and questions and a whole range of possibilities about what might lie ahead and we’re excited to see what avenues both artists venture along with the different researchers on Sara’s team…
Check out our Atopic Art workshops at this year’s 2017 Science Festival!
Both Beverley and Gordon along with Sara and her research team will be bringing different elements of what they have been exploring and researching to ASCUS Lab for this years’ Edinburgh International Science Festival.
Come join us to see art-science collaboration in action!