Situated at the nexus of art and science, the HCA Public Engagement project provides a powerful opportunity to catalyze new thinking, knowledge and ways of working between artists, scientists and diverse communities located across four areas of England: Newcastle, London, Cambridge, Oxford.
Each of the four cities has commissioned artists to critically respond to two questions that are fundamental to the success of the HCA initiative:
Each city commission is framed by a distinct, yet interconnected theme, providing the project with an opportunity to access to a wide spectrum of artistic perspectives, methods and skill sets; Speculative Normality (Oxford), Embodying Normality (Newcastle upon Tyne), Sensing Normality (London), and Performing Normality (Cambridge).
Click on the arrows below to find out more about each city commission and how you can get involved.
Speculative thinking can open up new worlds that exist in an imagined past, parallel present or near future. It can help us see beyond traditional beliefs, established systems and accepted narratives by showing us different perspectives of how things could be. Reimagining the rules of engagement can enable us to embrace speculative and fictional alternatives that expand our comprehension of normality.
Boredomresearch are fascinated by the magical worlds that appear at the level of cellular behaviour. As part of the Human Cell Atlas project the artists will be translating scientific insight into a vibrant animated world to inspire and challenge an everyday understanding of normality. Expanding a sense of self, beyond the depiction of human form, to provide a creative speculative basis on which we can reimagine our future.
Boredomresearch will be collaborating with the Human Cell Atlas scientists to explore individual and collective cell responses. Investigating how a scientific understanding of cells can inform our sense of self, both as beings made of cells and as individual parts of a wider ecological system. boredomresearch are keen to learn about immune responses and explore selfish cellular behaviour to drive an animated visual fiction inspired by cell behaviour in the environment of the body. The work will form an allegory that reveals a wider conceptualisation of health across different frames of reference to extend a body of work centered on interconnectedness between environmental and biomedical health.
Paul Smith works with Vicky Isley in the artistic collaboration known as boredomresearch. Together they encourage meaningful connections between art, science and society to foster a growing sensitivity towards the inherent fragility of natural systems. Exploring themes as diverse as swarm robotics, disease transmission and a cultural obsession with speed their work has received worldwide attention including: TIME Magazine and New Scientist. Working in some of the world's most advanced scientific laboratories Smith endeavours to re-engage scientists with their artistic roots to create cultural expressions of cutting edge research. Recent exhibitions include: ArtScience Museum Singapore; BOZAR Brussels and ISEA Manizales.
Vicky Isley works collectively with Paul Smith, as boredomresearch, their work is underpinned by a rich understanding of nature's mechanisms and has been exhibited globally including: Shenzhen New Media Arts Festival, China; HeK, Basel and LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, Gijón Spain. As a researcher at the National Centre for Computer Animation (2005-2020) Isley established novel research initiatives including BLAST (Bournemouth Lab of Art, Science & Technology) celebrating world leading art, science and technological interactions. Isley’s collaborations with scientists has led to award winning artworks including AfterGlow which received the Lumen Prize moving image award (2016).
Fusion Arts is a catalyst for creativity in Oxford, and beyond. Since 1977 we have connected artists with communities, and inspired hundreds of bespoke creative projects. Fusion Arts creates spaces for artists and communities to make, share and experience the arts together.
Through the transformational power of the arts, we respond to challenging social circumstances by delivering meaningful and inclusive artistic experiences. Fusion Arts is an Oxford-based charity that devises and delivers creative projects in the local and wider community. We work in partnership with other creative and non-creative organizations, artists and people from all walks of life.
Formerly known as Bloomin’ Arts, Fusion has been operating from its base on the corner of Princes St and the Cowley Road in the heart of the East Oxford community since March 1977. Fusion’s projects reach across Oxfordshire and beyond, working within communities in participatory and public art and contributing to high profile public events such as Cowley Road Carnival and Oxford Christmas Light Festival. We work in partnership with other cultural organisations in the city, such as University of Oxford, Oxford City Council, Oxford GLAM (Gardens, Libraries and Museums), Museum of Oxford, Modern Art Oxford and others.
New technologies enable us to inhabit different perspectives through embodied immersive experiences that can disrupt, enhance or alter our sense of normality. Within virtual, augmented, hybrid reality and immersive environments, physical constraints and limitations cease to be relevant. Established narratives and familiar structures are radically reconfigured or are simply no longer required. This provides us with an opportunity to reveal new insights into our relationship with ourselves, each other and our world.
Throughout our lives, our bodies hold a hidden landscape of knowledge. In every breath, every heartbeat we produce a picture that can help scientists uncover the mysteries of humanity. After death our bodies hold a lifetime's experience that can become a collective gift to the next generation. Through donating our bodies an ending can create many new beginnings – that are celebrated in unique ways.
However, donations are also bound up in questions of identity, family members are reported to leave notes on donated bodies to be found by medical students which give a sense of who the person was. Balancing an individual’s identity in relation to their data can provide new insights and give people a sense of continuing bonds after death.
Working with the Human Cell Atlas scientific team this collaboration will explore the role that the bodies of the dead may serve in society and how ideas of normality may shift with new rituals. The artistic practice will explore collective forms of deconstructing and reconstructing a landscape of bodies using immersive technologies to create a shared environment where the public can gift their avatars as a way of expressing that donated bodies construct a richer whole.
Stacey is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Design at Northumbria University. With a background in design and communication, her research inquiries into how co-design can engage publics to speculatively explore their own mortality and legacy. Through a mix of ethnography, cultural probes and participatory design methods, she has collaborated with hospices, festivals, libraries and galleries to curate a range of interactive events aimed at specific communities e.g. tech innovators, educators and bereaved family members. This has resulted in a range of publications on death, creativity and technology alongside her practice, which has been featured in festivals like FutureFest and DesignTO, Toronto.
Holly is a medical sociologist and Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow at Northumbria University. Holly’s research interests are focused around end-of-life, and medical technologies and their impacts on the body and constructions of identity. In her PhD research Holly explored the impact of living with a Ventricular Assist Device, a mechanical heart pump and alternative to heart transplantation, using interpretive phenomenology to explore how individuals made sense of their life with the device, and how they reconfigure their perceptions of their body and identity in response to the impacts of the technology.
Dominic Smith is an artist, producer and curator whose practice explores open source methods of collaborative project development through a hands-on, open approach to working with art & technology. His current interests include the connective nature of digital platforms and data materialisation.
He has led a number of nationally recognised programmes in the past and is currently freelance as associate Curator of Digital art for Queen’s Hall Arts and D6 - Culture in Transit. He also has led and facilitated a number of creative, multi disciplined Hacks, sprints and maker events.
As multisensory beings, we receive information about ourselves and our world through the wisdom of the body. We now know that human experience in the world is not limited to the use of one sense at a time but many at the same time. Our senses constantly interact, integrate and influence each other to generate a unified multisensory perceptual experience that fills our everyday lives. Sensing Normality will explore how our bodies perceive our understanding of normality through sensory interactions with spatial, material, atmospheric and acoustic qualities and meanings can stimulate novel sensory experiences, foster new associations and catalyse our memories and imagination.
As the Human Cell Atlas reveals vast unknowns of our cellular universe, how do we navigate these inner, responsive landscapes?
Encompass seeks out new kinds of practices to help us nurture emotional connections and intellectual reflections alongside rapid scientific and technological developments. Specifically, the project aims to nurture a sense of wonder, enchantment, and respect towards the unknowns of our bodies, meanwhile generating data to quantify, calculate and predict cellular behaviour.
Encompass imagines a scenario where the 3D imaging of a mapped cellular body becomes layered with meaning from memories, emotions and associations of those who experience it. In particular, Encompass investigates the intricate landscapes of our guts, our ‘second brain’, to discover a world of complex cellular interactions. Research into how intestinal cells navigate, become ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’, serves as the starting point from which to consider navigation in a wider context – societal, political and planetary.
In a world post pandemic, where living with unseen biological forces is rapidly shaping new normalities, Encompass is a tool for navigating and directing collective worldbuilding, starting in the wonderous encounter with our cellular selves.
Baum & Leahy (Amanda Baum (DK) and Rose Leahy (UK)) is an award-winning international, creative duo working across interdisciplinary collaboration, interactive installation and sculpture, art direction, scenography and experience design. Collaborating with experts across disciplines, from microbiologists to musicians, quantum computer scientists to architects, they open up, question and sensorialise scientific research into tactile, participatory experiences. Within these worlds participants are invited into the concepts and research through performative interactions, using frameworks of sensorial meditative ceremonies, and remediation rituals. Through research-led worldmaking and material storytelling, their work allows the beholder a proximity to alternative realities, melting between the feasible and fantastical.
Since meeting at the Royal College of Art, Baum & Leahy have exhibited at internationally renowned venues, including the Royal Academy of Arts, Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert Museum, Wellcome Collection, Somerset House (UK), The National Gallery of Denmark, Medical Museion (DK), MU ArtSpace (NL), Prairie (US), Vega Scene (NO), and Art Laboratory Berlin (DE). Recently, they were shortlisted for the Lumen Art Prize and The Rapoport Award for Women in Art and Tech, and received both the Bio Art & Design Award and the British Library Labs Artistic Award in 2018. They are currently fellows at BOM (Birmingham Open Media) and part of the CPH:DOX’s Lab cohort 2020-2021.
Justine Boussard is an independent curator and freelance producer working in the fields of design, craft and culture, with a keen interest in socially-engaged and environmentally-conscious practices. Her practice encompasses exhibition curation and production, events management and public engagement. Clients include Crafts Council, Design Museum and the British Council. As associate project manager at UP Projects, she focuses on improving public space through artist-led community engagement. In 2019, Justine founded There Project (thereproject.org) with curator Sarah Turner to address key contemporary issues through the medium of public design interventions.
Performance offers an unique opportunity to view our individual realities as a scene in flux and situates our personal understanding of ‘normality’ within temporal practices that embrace the ephemeral and immediate aspects of art’s performativity (its ability to act). Performance affords an ability to recompose and restage our relationship with normality. We can remix alternative possibilities that help expose and deconstruct those behaviours (e.g. signifiers, rituals, and words) we enact as ‘normal’ within our world.
A way of doing things is a dance and moving image project that uses movement to explore the complex relationship between normality, familiarity and trust. It involves a series of participatory workshops with the public that focus on the idea of movement schema, what Mark Johnson (1989) and others describe as, the accumulated patterns of movement that we move through life with. These movement patterns, these familiar and comforting ways of doing things, are so embedded that they are often only revealed to us when displaced or disrupted in some way by external events. As a way of exploring what we mean by normal, this project will generate an embodied experience of finding, leaving and returning to those deep familiar movement patterns for participants, researchers and viewers.
During the project, people will be asked to re-enact, re-perform, swap and ‘gift’ their way of doing things to other people. These acts of trust will be recorded and lead to creation of a moving image exhibition which celebrates the extraordinary range of movement people exhibit within everyday movement as well as the generosity and courage involved in letting someone see something of who you are and the way you do things.
Anna Macdonald is a dance and moving image artist from the UK who uses film to expose the resonance of simple movements such as moving from ‘here to there’, ‘holding’ or ‘getting slower’. She specialises in working with the public, developing innovative models for participatory and interdisciplinary arts-based research, and her work is regularly exhibited and published in both festival and gallery settings. Anna is a researcher at Manchester Met University where she leads the MA in Contemporary Performance practice. Her most recent research, funded by Arts Council England, explores the act of tracking within performative digital practices.
Cambridge Junction is all about great music, art and entertainment. We are welcoming to anyone and to all, providing opportunities to connect, learn and experience. We encourage audiences and artists to be confident and curious. We are the place where art and technology meet life. For the HCA commission, Cambridge Junction is working with socially engaged practitioner Hilary Cox Condron. Hilary’s practice is inclusive and responsive – using visual art, performance, installations, photography, exhibitions, events and film to engage, develop and share ideas and stories.
Image Credits: Stewart/Teichmann reference material for film research:
Images from top left:
The Story of the Human Cell Atlas is an artist film exploring the themes of language, the invisible,the unknown, and imagination in relationship to the Human Cell Atlas. The film looks at the interconnected histories of technologies of seeing, scientific discovery and our relationship to our own bodies.
Since the Renaissance, artists and scientists have mapped our bodies in all of its knowable and unknowable complexity, the process of categorizing, classifying and naming fragments undertaken to understand the elusive whole. The Human Cell Atlas aims to create an open-access atlas of knowledge, mapping how all body systems are connected, impacting almost every aspect of biology and medicine in the future.
This artist film will interweave the present with the past and future, showing how and why this proposition of knowledge as a continual unfolding is more relevant than ever. The film charts the historical lineage and context of the Human Cell Atlas project, moving from the documentary to the poetic, from micro to macro, from Cell to the Cosmos.
Credits for GIF: Esther Teichmann, works from Heavy the Sea
Biography: Esther Teichmann's practice looks at the relationships between the maternal, loss, desire and the imaginary, working across still and moving image installation. Recent solo museum shows include Heavy the Sea, Transformer Station, Cleveland and Mondschwimmen, Reiss-Engelhorn Museum, Mannheim. Collaborations include Phantasie Fotostudio II with Monster Chetwynd at John Hansard Gallery, and the co-curation and editing of the exhibition and book, Staging Disorder, with artist Christopher Stewart. Teichmann received an MA (2005) and PhD (2011) in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art (RCA) and is Head of Programme of the Master of Research, and Coordinator for Critical and Historical Studies at the RCA.
Credits for GIF: Christopher Stewart, The Colony from Rehearsals for the End of the World
Biography: Christopher Stewart's practice explores themes of surveillance, the invisible, rehearsal, masculinity, secrecy and power. Across photographic and moving image work, he works within military and other institutional networks which have a subjective component, relating to aspects of his own military and police culture biography. Stewart's work has been exhibited widely including at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art in Norwich, The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford, Open Eye in Liverpool and Fotomuseum in Winterthur, Switzerland, with work held in public and private collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Martin Z. Margulies collection, Miami. Writing and curatorial research projects are also central to Christopher's practice. He completed an MA at the Royal College of Art and a PhD in the Faculty of Art & Design at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
In collaboration with:
Deirdre Gribbin: Composer
Biography: Deirdre Gribbin's music has been performed worldwide including The Lincoln Center, New York. She was finalist in the UNESCO Rostrum of Composers and won the Arts Foundation Opera Award for Hey Persephone!, which enjoyed an acclaimed run at Aldeburgh and Almeida Festivals. She is a Fulbright Churchill and Leverhulme Fellow. Deirdre has collaborated with geneticists at the Wellcome Genome Campus and with scientists in Toronto developing interactive video platforms for healthcare. She is Artistic Director of Venus Blazing Music Theatre Trust working with young people with cognitive delays. She has written for film, including My Kingdom for Sky Pictures starring Richard Harris. The Dark Gene, featuring her DNA string quartet Hearing Your Genes Evolve was a finalist in the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival Documentary Prize.
Jenny Bangham: Scientific and Medical Historian
Boris Jardine: Scientific and Medical Historian
Ken Kirton, Director Studio Hato: Design and Public Engagement Studio