Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Art and Anatomy: Hunter Centre, Dunedin, Friday 27th June - 11th July 2014

Most of the first part of the year has revolved around a collaborative project organised by Peter Stupples (Dunedin School of Art) and Dr Ruth Napper (Otago University).  At an initial meeting a group of artists were introduced to a group of scientists (and their research) from the Anatomy Department. What could I find more delicious? As an artist I love sticking my nose into specialist research areas where I have no real skill.  I soak up the new and can greedily satisfy my curiosity with things usually hidden to the public eye. I paired myself with Electron Microscope Technician Allan Mitchell and there I was, feeling  like I was flying over the moon while looking down on magnified slivers of kidney.  I came to learn that part of Allan's technician role is to facilitate the work of scientists in the Anatomy Department. This blended with my impulse to provide creative experiences through art engagement and I put out an invitation to scientists and artists involved in the A & A project to contribute images and have a printmaking session printing translating these images into plate and print. 

Kidney cells under the electron microscope
Printing happened at Otakou Press and Lighthouse Studio
A range of prints Ruth Napper produced in an initial session -
later these evolved into the information being printed onto laser cut shapes

This process is printed as a sketchbook, Body of Evidence. This sketchbook was shaped organically in an evolving way with the input of different participants throughout the project. Who is the author? The artist? The scientist? The audience? What happened in the process of collaboratively printing and shaping a sketch book? Some things I expected and others I did not. People took risks, we seemed to be braver when working together.  Although participants recognised the inherent aesthetic appeal of their scientific imagery, some did not feel creative and felt nervous in coming to a printmaking workshop. Equally, I felt nervous meeting one of the Doctors in his hospital based office. However, it seems all of us like working in something that is not our usual medium. Feedback revealed a recognition of working with and trusting what develops out of the process of experimentation and that  printmaking experiences can  be an agent for changes in thinking.

Cover page printed with Dr John Holmes.
 Book cover is a slide housing case lined with Anatomy Dept blueprints.

Tectonics with Marcus Collinge

Laser cut and printed TEM grid shapes

Rat and my attempts to use a drawing arm on a microscope

Learning surgeon's sutures
Image sources: a stack of magazine spines (Allan Mitchell)
 and a recording of gait (Emily Hill)

I have stolen some sentences from participants: “The essential difference is that I feel a freedom here that I don’t feel in science.”  “I enjoyed this as I had no expectations of a result, it was a fun thing to do. The environment is nice to work in as my own [work] environment is sterile out of respect for the human material.” “Is this heaven? [[The Otakou Press Room]…I can’t quite believe that I got to spend the afternoon doing this.” “It is nice to be part of something communal, to band ideas off each other.” “[This printmaking] is a recording of the juxtaposed physicality between the scientific image and the artful.” “There are not enough hours in the day to explore all the ideas that have come all of a sudden.”
Texture printed from the plastic of aprons used in dissection room,
fragments from Becky Cameron's sketchbook on eye movements,
Simone Montgomery's neuron threads and
Stephanie Woodley's knee research. 

Doctor's notes (from NZ Archives), Lynette Taylor's stencils and laser cut medical dictionary.

Book was displayed in both bound form and loose pages

I am becoming increasingly interested in how audiences can shape or contribute to exhibitions. While Body of Evidence achieved this the input group was only 20 and another art work, Sliver, became the platform for audience interaction. I laid the printing plates out on a table top along with graphite and paper. I have tried many times to encourage audience participation and had grand imaginings of activity only to find people are reluctant to respond. In contrast, the frottage activity took off - perhaps because it is non - threatening or because it harks back to texture rubbings we may have done in childhood.  People became addicted and on days I was there some people stayed making for one, two, three hours! 
It was interesting to go into the space and see what people had been doing while I was absent

One weekend Ruth and I offered badge making - creating a frenzy of frottage and badges

See also