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Inside an Art-Science Collaboration

03/12/2013 in Art, Artifact, Collaborations, Imperial College, Science

This week we hear from Andy Roast, an ex-science communication student from Imperial College London who shares with us a condensed version of his dissertation that explores how metaphor is used extensively in art & science collaborations.

Different stages of chromosome segregation in mitosis: cell in metaphase. DNA (blue), the axes of sister chromatids stained with topoisomerase II antibodies (red), the mitotic spindle stained with tubulin antibodies (green). Courtesy of J.-F. Giménez-Abián. via

Last year I was lucky enough to meet some real-life, art-science facilitators. The MitoSys project aims to observe the interactions between 600 proteins involved in cell division, with the goal of uncovering how individual protein molecules contribute to cell division as a whole.

This is an interesting scientific project. But even more interesting from an art-science perspective is that the multimillion Euro’s worth of funding provided by the European Commission came with a condition: that there must be a public exhibition of the results.

Enter Marina Wallace, Professor of Curating at University of the Arts London: Central Saint Martins and Director of the art-science organisation, Artakt. Marina is well known in art-science circles, having successfully curated many exhibitions including one about the pioneering geneticist Gregor Mendel at the Abbey of St Thomas in Brno: the very place in which he worked.

My role with this group was to observe how curators and art communicators facilitated a discussion between scientists and artists.

C P Snow is well known for noting that discussion between the ‘two cultures’ of art and science is rare. Perhaps this is due to the different purposes of each subject: science, through method and reason, attempts a precise description of natural occurrences, whereas art can convey an idea, feeling or emotion.

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Gemma Anderson

19/11/2013 in Art, Artifact, Collaborations, Imperial College, Matematics, Opinion, Science

If you’re looking for inspiration, this week we hear from Royal College of Art alumnus Gemma Anderson who tells us about her experience as Leverhulme Artist in Residence within the maths department at Imperial College London. 

Our artistic collaboration began in 2011, when I found myself reading the article ‘A Periodic Table of Shapes’ in the Imperial College Newsletter. The article described the research of Mathematicians Tom Coates and Alessio Corti, who study geometric forms called Fano Varieties that are “atomic pieces” of mathematical shapes.

I immediately took the article back to my studio and began making drawings, exploring the Fano forms.  This subsequently developed into a full collaboration, first with Coates and Corti and then later also with Dorothy Buck.

Drawing has played an essential role in our project.  During hundreds of conversations about scientific ideas — about string theory, hyperbolic geometries, polyhedra, topology, knot theory, DNA, and many other topics — drawings have formed the bridge that allows interdisciplinary communication.

These drawings are largely informal, notational, and schematic.  They accompany and form an integral part of conversations, with drawing functioning as a non-verbal, intuitive language for scientific concepts.  The precise role of drawing differs from place to place in the conversation: communicating the visualization needed for understanding; sharpening these visualizations; or creating understanding (for the drawer) through the physical act of drawing.

Drawing also plays a different, and deeper, role in our collaboration.  Because the creative processes of the mathematicians involved are heavily visual and drawing-based, I can witness and connect to the process of doing mathematical research; this directly inspires artworks based on the geometries and forms involved. In turn, I respond with unique insights and resonances, the result of my practiced observational drawing practice across the natural world.  The works that we create thus admit multiple overlapping perspectives, holding within them as they do the different logics of the artist and the mathematician.


To find out more about Gemma’s work and see some of her past exhibitions visit her websites below:

The Return of Artifact

11/11/2013 in Artifact, Collaborations, Imperial College, Imperial College Union, RCA, RCASU, Royal College of Art, Update

Artifact is back for another year! With an exciting programme of events and lectures planned over the next academic year, here’s our Co-Chair, Ros Pearce to tell you what we aim to create and why she got involved.  

The Imperial College Union is once again teaming up with the Royal College of Art, in an exciting opportunity to promote communication and collaboration.

Artifact works like this: following a series of social events, scientists and artists from each college form partnerships. Taking inspiration from each other, these partnerships will work together to submit a proposal for the Artifact summer exhibition, to be shown at both Imperial and the RCA.

As a Scientist perhaps you would like the opportunity to explore your work creatively. Your work may have emotive or aesthetic value that you had not previously considered. Maybe you feel that your area has the potential to generate discussion. This is your chance to share your passion for your field with others.

As an Artist perhaps there is something that fascinates you about science. Science is transforming our world and our lives. Scientists can be seen as wizards, creators, destroyers, heroes, and the area of science commands incredible respect and power. Or perhaps there is a particular kind of expertise that you need to realise your ideas. Artifact provides a unique opportunity to access such expertise.

There is an increasing interest in interdisciplinary art, and I believe that some of the most thought-provoking work can come from the collaboration of the ‘two cultures’. From a young age people are sorted into ‘those who can do science’ and ‘those who can do the arts’. I think this is an oversimplification of the human intellect, and something that I always found restrictive. After all, some of the best scientific ideas have come from thinking creatively, and many artistic mediums require considerable technical expertise.

This is why I jumped at the opportunity to get involved with Artifact. Bringing together some of the brightest minds from two world-renowned institutions is sure to have interesting results. I’m already very excited to see what the final exhibition brings!


Ros – Vice-Chair