Rooted at the heart of any commission is the passion you have for telling a story. Creating a narrative that people can really engage with. My challenge for this commission was to produce artwork that explored the work that is being carried out in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Disease Research at Newcastle University. While also incorporating the impact upon real people’s lives.
We associate science with brilliant minds, sterile laboratories, facts, figures and research papers. And while this is true, there is another side to the scientific world that for the most part the majority of us are in awe of, as if by magic we are cured by a pill, ground breaking research helps the blind see and deaf hear. Science is all around us like a force that keeps guiding us towards a new frontier.
Nowhere is that more true than at Newcastle Universities Medical School. The research that they are doing into Mitochondrial Disease is groundbreaking and it is changing people’s lives. I have heard it first hand from patients that have been involved with the research facility for many years, and it is clear to me that the research being carried out is a lifeline for them.
The starting point for this particular commission was to be introduced to key members of staff and have a look around the lab. I also had to have a health and safety briefing, where I was told to make sure that even in the summer I had to wear proper shoes, not flip flops or sandles. I thought this was quite reasonable and asked if this was to limit the potential for tripping over in the lab, only to be told yes this was one reason, but the other was that there are hazardous chemicals that are used regularly that can eat through flesh and bone. As you can imagine I made sure that I didn’t wear a pair of flip flops or sandles in the lab!!
As it turns out most of my time was spent in the microscopy suite. I was given some excellent techincal support and then I was allowed to get on with making a body of microscopy photography that would form the basis of the commission. This is one of my most favourite parts of any commission, when I get trained to use a new microscope and explore the microscopic dimension. I talk about the thrill of finding that perfect composition, that perfect focus in my blog post Inner Space Adventures this is something that I never tire of and one day I hope to have my own microscope to play with. Working with a microscope is such a joy, and it is wonderful learning how to use new equipment and finding out what it is capable of. With the particular equipment that I used on this occassion I learnt how to create a “stitch” image. This is an image that is taken over 6-9 areas of the slide and then each individual image is stitched together by the microscope. As the standard images are only photographed at 96dpi with a physical size of an A4 sheet of paper, I was told that the stitch gave me the opportunity to take images at the same resolution but with a larger physical size and covering a larger surface area of the slide. You can see in the image below where the join marks are visible at the top of the picture, and the exposure is slightly different from one part of the stitch to the other.
I did find that when I was preparing images for print that the stitch process didn’t really provide me with a better quality image. And in fact that I didn’t need many large format printed images anyway. In the end there was only one piece of work that needed to be printed on a large scale. Namely the silk artwork details of which I will talk about in another blog post.
The next part of the commission was to work with patients that had expressed an interest in being involved in the commission. This was a great opportunity for me to understand what Mitochondrial Disease meant to people living with it on a day to day basis. It allowed patients to tell me their story, and they were very patient and generous with all my questions. What came out of this session was some beautiful interpretations of my microscopy photography, but also independent artworks and a list of words that represented how they felt about living with Mitochondrial Disease. You can see their work in my blog post Tell Me Your Story.
This commission was very special and I wanted to produce a multi-disciplinary installation for the final exhibit. It was important to me that the work would cross the boundaries of art, design, engagement and science.
The exhibit is happening on the 18th and 19th of June 2016. You can find details of the event on this link here. Or alternatively take a look at the eflyer that I have designed for the event below.
This commission was funded by NICAP (Newcastle Institute of Creative Practice and Engage FMS. More details about NICAP can be found here. And it was supported by The Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research.