Art and science collide to unveil ‘A Picture of Health’

 29 November 2019  

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but is it enough to express A Picture of Health?

The evening of 18 November saw the grand opening of the largely anticipated A Picture of Health Pop-up Exhibition at Elephant West. A refreshing mix of individuals from a range of disciplines across science and art gathered to view the culmination of the collaborative project between the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences (LMS) and the University of Arts London, Central Saint Martins (UAL: CSM), specifically the Art and Science and Fine Art MAs.

Accompanied by some light snacks, post-work bubbles and an interactive booklet, guests were invited to explore the showcase at their own pace. Visitors also had the chance to watch a short screening of the exhibition trailer showing the process, including snippets from talks given by researchers Dr Enrique Castro-Sanchez, Dr Arturo Gonzalez-Izquierdo, Dr Claire Robertson, Dr Sibylle Ermler, Dr Harry Leitch and Professor Oliver Howes.

Read all about the workshop that took place earlier in the year where the artists and researchers first came together to discuss the project here. You can also watch the A Picture Of Health trailer here.

As the evening unfolded, the visitors familiarised themselves with the work. They gathered for a welcome from Dr Jenna Stevens-Smith, Head of Communications and Engagement (MRC LMS), followed by introductions to each piece of work by Lucy Brown, Engagement Project Manager (MRC LMS) with the artists themselves who spoke about the inspirations behind their creations and their collaborative processes. This gave everyone the chance to reflect on their first thoughts and interpretations of the exhibits and further understand the symbolism used by the artists.

A collaboration between Central Saint Martins artist Marianna Heilmann from the Arts and Science MA and Dr Enrique Castro-Sanchez from the Department of Infectious Disease, Imperial College London. They delved into the topic of antimicrobial through their creation titled ‘Systems within Systems’. The piece interactively maps different pathways through the complex and inter-connected web of factors that impact health, with each and every layer representing a new system and the subsystems within.

Phil Barton with his co-produced printwork, ‘A Deep Connection’. Phil is on the Arts and Science MA, CSM, and ran co-production workshops around the analogy of the health of a human with that of an urban tree with Dr Sibylle Ermler, Dr Enrique Castro-Sanchez, Ian Willey, Dr Claire Robertson, Lucy Brown, Solange Alves, Roween Rowat, Catherine Herbert, Charlier Roscoe and Nidhee Jadeja.

Following the opening, the one day pop-up exhibition (19 November) was filled with community programming to engage various community groups from around White City. The day began with a workshop with Dr Laura Madeley and The RENA Initiative. Laura is a sleep clinician and artist on the Arts and Science Masters, CSM, and The RENA Initiative is a group for women in White City to explore their identity and experiences through art. The workshop was inspired by Laura’s piece ‘A Good Night’s Sleep’ in which she explored data from sleep studies and came to visualise the urban skyline patterns within it. The group were invited to produce an art piece conveying their relationship and experience with sleep mimicking the style of the pieces in the exhibition.

Dr Laura Madeley, sleep clinician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and CSM artist on the Arts and Science Masters, exhibiting her piece ‘A Good Night’s Sleep’. Laura’s work was inspired by shapes and patterns from sleep data and their similarities to an urban landscape. The artwork explores how that environment is affecting our sleep patterns.

Throughout the workshop, Laura talked about sleep myths and misconceptions taking us all by surprise, for example the detrimental impact alcohol can have on sleep, despite the common belief that a glass of wine before bed can help. The activity resulted in an extraordinary assortment of thought-provoking drawings, paintings and collages, sparking new discussions on the topic of sleep. Finally, the session concluded with a short relaxation exercise demonstrating a way to help people get to sleep better.

The second workshop was held in the afternoon with the Askew Road Library community group, developed and delivered by Lucy Brown and CSM artist Lottie Bolster. Following a brief explanation of her art inspired by the topic of mental health, the ladies of Askew Road Library gathered around a table filled with craft materials and resources. Prompted by Lottie’s piece exploring commonalities between dementia, schizophrenia and trauma in the semblance of tree rings, the group set out to create artwork representing the individual’s life experiences in the same analogy of rings in a tree trunk.

Artists Lottie Bolster, Teresa Zefara Bryne (Arts and Science MA) and Rosie Riley (Fine Art MA) from Central Saint Martins, presenting their collective compositions as part of ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’. These covered mental health topics: dementia, schizophrenia and the psychological impacts of trauma. The group explored the commonalities between these ‘illnesses’ of distortion, repetition and removal through their individual strengths in embroidery, visualisation and illustration. This was done in collaboration with Amy Jolly, Dr Emily Mayhew, Katerina Shatalina, Keith Abraham and Niall Bourke.

The second half of the afternoon blossomed into a discussion stimulated by the topic of artificial intelligence and big data, from which three art pieces were produced by CSM artists Lois Bentley, Rose Meng-Mei and Riko Yasumiya in collaboration with doctoral student Jonny Jackson.

Many intriguing points and views were brought up, ranging from the seesaw relationship between increasing the amount of personal data for better accuracy and the trust we have in the use of this data, to the seemingly waning face-to-face experiences with doctors and GPs with the growing use of screens and technology in consultations. It was a well facilitated discussion where the artists responded to the community members’ thoughts and comments in light of the artistic explorations of the research. Lois eventually rounded off the session by encouraging everyone to think about our relationship with technology; emphasising the need to discover how we can be friends with technology and better co-exist.

Central Saint Martin artists on the Arts and Science MA Lois Bentley, Rose Meng-Mei and Riko Yasumiya, with doctoral student Jonny Jackson showcasing their 3D piece the ‘Dream-Catcher Machine’ allowing viewers to discover and follow their journey of understanding the field of machine learning and data science. The group also produced a piece titled ‘Heart’, simulating heart beats and questioning whether or not clinically collected data is a true and accurate reflection of our inner functioning and physiology. Their third creation ‘Accuracy and Trust’, in the form of illustration, explores the dynamic of human trust and relationship with machines.

There are so many parallels we can draw from both art and science, and this project has shown how harmoniously these two disciplines can come together to evoke thoughts, feelings and discussions about health in the 21st century and beyond.

As a new year and a new decade approaches, sprouting from this successful pilot, we are excited to see the A Picture of Health project bloom into a larger project between many more artists and scientists in line with the opening of our new building. We hope this will be the beginning of a reinvigorated understanding of what health is and what it means to us both as individuals and as a community.

Last, but not least, an enormous thank you to Lucy for all the hard work, effort and genius she put into orchestrating this project up until the final exhibition.


Written by Emily Jin