Bleedin’ art scientist

For a long time, science and art were treated as separate disciplines. Now, collaborations across camps are popping up to provoke scientific curiosity through artistic endeavours.

Illustration by  Sarah Nagorcka

Illustration by Sarah Nagorcka

This is an editorial for Issue 24 of Lateral by Art Director Dr. Nicki Cranna, who would love for you to come down and talk to her at the Science Gallery Melbourne, where she is talking to everyone that will listen about all things Blood and her love for science art.

At face value, science and art don’t necessarily seem like two fields that would easily overlap. But anyone who has spent time in a lab could tell you that there’s beauty in what is seen through the microscope. On the other side, artists will say that their art draws heavily from science; it is a process of investigation of ideas and theories. Leonardo Da Vinci blended art and science in the 15th and 16th centuries, but since then the practice had somewhat dropped out of fashion until relatively recently.

Now, the science-art scene is pulsating. Scientists are displaying their work as visual art through initiatives like Under the Coverslip at the University of Melbourne and the 3D Visualisation Aesthetics Lab at The University of New South Wales. Artists are collaborating with scientists to create science-inspired pieces through programs like SciArt Center and Living Data. Science-art is even popping up in cafe exhibits. And of course, publications like Lateral are joining in the fun.

The combination of science and art is a big part of what Lateral is all about, alongside helping science writers and artists starting out to develop their profile. We aim to stir curiosity in the next generation, to ask questions and to understand how science connects to their lives and to the world as a whole. Art helps us achieve that by making science attractive and fun, drawing people in and igniting interest where text and graphics alone may not.

This month we have a special issue; we are collaborating with Science Gallery Melbourne upon the opening of their first pop up exhibition, Blood: Attract and Repel. This is the first pop-up exhibit for Science Gallery Melbourne, an initiative stemming from the Science Gallery at Trinity College, Dublin.

This and subsequent pop up exhibits are vessels for circulating ideas and building up anticipation for the official Melbourne opening in 2020. The aim of the Blood exhibit is to explore ideas related to “taboo, stigma, identity, health, giving and future”.

The gallery itself works to engage people in the evolving conversation about the relationship between science and art. Depending on the online space you hang out in, you might have heard a lot about promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) these days, particularly for girls and women. A key objective of the Science Gallery network is to inject an A into STEM, expanding it to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), melding art with the sciences to “ignite creativity and discovery where science and art collide”.

Combining current research and philosophies with art, technology and design in which visitors can touch, look, listen, smell and question — the gallery achieves exactly this.

Blood is the perfect theme to kick off the Melbourne chapter because it is both visceral and universal. We all have it flowing through our veins; we cannot survive without it. Yet so many of us are grossed out by this dark red, fascinating substance that transports and transfers oxygen all around our body so our cells can perform their necessary functions to keep us alive and happy.

But, as we all know, blood can evoke a somewhat squeamish response. For me, the exhibit raises questions around why some of us have such an extreme reaction to blood. Is it because we are afraid of the power it holds within us? Is it because of the way it comes gushing out when we cut ourselves? Is it because of it’s potential to hold and carry disease, or that we associate it with violence? And most importantly: are these reactions rational, and can we change them? Once you check out Blood: Attract and Repel you will have many questions answered, and, no doubt, many more thought provoking questions to ask.

Along the same vein, we too have been discussing and examining all things blood. In this special edition, we cover the ins and out’ of HIV and why some infected with the disease don't progress to full blown AIDS; we look at why some countries don’t allow men who have sex with men to donate blood and others do; we discover how tiny pieces of RNA (DNA’s little sister) flowing through our blood can help us detect diseases like cancer and heart disease; we learn the truth about who really uncovered the way our blood travels through us; and finally we delve into some of the captivating art works you can expect to experience at Science Gallery Blood: Attract and Repel.

If you enjoy this bloody issue and want to challenge your senses and question what you thought you knew, be sure to check out the exhibit before the 23rd of September 2017, located at the University of Melbourne in the Frank Tate Building.