Atopic Experiences with Artist Beverley Hood

by Beverley Hood, Atopic Art Micro-Residency Artist, June 2017

I’ve been working at the Brown Lab at Ninewells, since mid January 2017. It’s been such a welcoming place, with staff that are curious about how artists work, even though, I think at first somewhat unsure about what artists actually do.

I’ve spent most of my time in the Brown Lab itself. A fascinating space where incredibly detailed research is undertaken into the genetic properties of Eczema. I have two lab coats; a white one for general use in the main lab, and a blue one for working with living cell cultures. The staff have guided me through their detailed process of creating skin cultures. This involves taking donated samples from patients, processing it, and then re-cultivating call samples from it, that can then be genetically manipulated, in an attempt to recreate eczema-like artificial skin. This process is painstakingly detailed and time consuming. It is dependent on a huge range of factors (Will this batch of antibodies work? What if the cells get infected?). It’s a precarious and often frustrating process.

I have been very priviledged to have been able to shadow the staff, who have led me though their work in these delicate processes, within carefully controlled environments. This has been an inspiring experience for me, both in the scientific process and being around the scientists at work. It is still amazing to me what is actually happening here, in this lab – DNA is actually being manipulated. And although, we may be blasé because it’s actually happening, to some extent, in labs all over the world, there is still an immensity to this, that is somewhat difficult to fully grasp. The lab is a calm space. An environment where the immensity of what is happening is never over inflated, but is acknowledged on a very ethical and human level. This work is meant to, and hopefully will, help real people suffering from Eczema.

Read more about Professor Sara Brown and her research

My aim is to bring some of this to the public. I’m not interested in a didactic method of using art to explain science. I want to try and bring some of the important human questions, and experiences of the lab to the public. My attempt to do this has involved experimentation with various imagining technologies that are used in the lab, in particular, microscopy, alongside VR imaging technology, and 360 filming.

As part of this process, myself and Dr Sara Brown, led a workshop in the Edinburgh Science Festival, supported by staff from ASCUS and the Brown Lab. We used an assortment of equipment, imaging techniques, and processes (including skin stripping, which isn’t as painful as it sounds!), to look at different layers of the participant’s skin, at a range of scales. Hopefully the participants left the workshop looking at their own skin in a whole new way.

For the upcoming exhibition at LifeSpace, I’m creating art works involving sound, 3D printing and 360 images. I’m hoping to present an experiential work, that immerses the view in the work of the Brown Lab, and highlights some of the lab’s scientific concerns but also embodies the poetic, human and ethical issues that its work raises.

Read about Atopic Art: Expressions of Eczema – partciaptory art project
Read more about Participating Artists – Atopic Art Micro-Residency project

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