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10 February 2009

As part of this discussion piece, Colin Hambrook has profiled a few of the artists and art projects that have set out to explore different aspects of an engagement between disability arts and science.

Benedict Phillips

DIV in USA 2006

DIV in USA 2006

Like a lot of artists, science was Benedict Phillips other good subject. At 14 he was classified as illiterate but was still able to get an A in General Science. He says: "For a long time I have been the subject of reseach and experimentation. This relationship links a lot of disabled artists to science. My artistic practice is driven by questions to do with reversing the roles, and becoming autonymous. I'm the one who should be leading the research." artists' photo

This is one of the premises for the DIV (Dyslexic Intelligent Vision) an ongoing programme of live art performance, research, photography and publication, which questions the medical model of dyslexia. Phillips says "It's not like there is a theory proven which say if this happens in the womb you become dyslexic. There are theories about brain damage, inherited characterists, but often scientists look at 'dyslexics' as if we are lab rats."

One of the ideas Phillips is interested in exploring is to do with the idea of genetic difference. What are the implications of a genetic marker that can pinpoint dyslexia? How would eradicating the gene alter the personality? "One notion is that I would have caused less trouble to society if I hadn't been severely dyslexic. The other side of the coin is that as the world becomes more interactive and voice-recognised conceptual space becomes more developed, that 3d thinkers will be able to navigate better than anyone else. Our advantage will grow out of our innate facility to imagine virtual and real space in the same way.

Phillips taught science in a primary school for two years from an artists' perspective. He says "It was an interesting experience in how to create crossovers with scientists and educationalists in developing creative approaches. The fact that artists start with a question and a process that can take incredible tangents, can be very exciting for scientists. They are often restricted by the rigors of having to follow a single line of thought through the rigors of experimentation to prove a concept. There are a lot of commonalities, but the differences can make an interesting conversation.

Other arts and science projects Benedict Phillips has been engaged with: Research with an architect about the idea of writing a brief to design a building that is dyslexic. The project looks at the notion of 3d space in flux. It draws out a device for discussing the nature of dyslexia and spatial awareness in relation to architecture. If you could create a building that can think and respond to its inhabitants, would the building fluctuate? How would that perception of a building in flux be achieved?

CapeUK specialises in creativity through research based project work. Creative Space drew on 5 years of CapeUK’s work with networks of schools in the field of creative teaching and learning in science. Phillips was commissioned as lead artist; worked with 3 of the 8 documented projects and curated an exhibition at the CUBE Manchester in 2004. Creative Space aimed to stimulate a more adventurous approach to the teaching of science and was aimed at teachers, artists, educationalists and funders. A book outlining the research projects findings can be found on the CapeUK website

Philips was shortlisted for MELT - an arts programme run by The Culture Company. His research bursary went towards developing a bigger proposal looking at how the barriers that exist within the internet could be removed for people who have any problem responding to the written form. Phillips says "My ideas are specific to my problems with using and navigating the internet, but the solutions could make navigation easier for everybody."

Gus Cummins: The Ictal Project

Screen print entitled 160 Image made from an MRI scan showing 160 'slices' of the artists' head.

Screen print entitled 160 Image made from an MRI scan showing 160 'slices' of the artists' head.

'Ictal 2008' showed at the A Foundation, Liverpool, as part of DaDaFest International 4th-7th Sept 2008 Screen print

From November 21st until December 21st 2008 'Invaders' will be showing at Exeter's Phoenix Media Centre. This will centre around a digital installation driven by EEG data recorded during his seizure activity, and will also include images from all preceding Ictal project exhibitions.

In his artists' talk at DadaFest Gus Cummins focussed on his journey from being an abstract painter making work based on euclidian axioms - to making work about epilepsy. The first set of images he showed was based on a series he called 'Dynamic Symmetry'. In retrospect he talks about these paintings as being largely about trying to control and to hide. 15 years on from the original diagnosis Gus made a painting he called 'Post Ictal: Nameless' The title was a meaning grafted on to the painting after realising the red shapes emerging from the black background reminded him of space invaders. It expressed something of the sense of being invaded by seizures and was a beginning for the Ictal Project that was to emerge.

Cummins began working directly with MRI scans of his brain to convey something of the loss of control and the feeling of being an anonymous cell placed under a microscope. He transcribed recordings of himself made when coming around from an epileptic seizure and turned the words into a form of poetry for a print titled 'Post Ictal. He also used EEG records of brain patterns as both a trigger for images which resemble music staves and also as data he could turn into sound using digital software.

A video installation attached to the exhibition takes the viewer through a sequence showing Cummins making a cup of coffee before slowly losing consciousness in the street outside his door. The world around him moves and blurrs into shadow while he stands in dream-like stasis.

The prints on show in 'ictal 2008' take the audience through various representations of the experience of having a seizure. Using scientific data Cummins describes effectively and beautifully, how it feels to be an object for examination; to have your brain scanned and imaged. His face becomes a multiplicity of faces - like atoms in a crowd. A red cross centred on a translucent jelly-fish like brain, delineates a point of examination. The last image in the series is of a face, washed out, dreamy, its identity eradicated. The print has a timeless quality that perhaps relates to the description Dosteoyevsky gives in the Idiot of a profound feeling of connection with the universe in the moments preceding a seizure.

A Series Of Lines

Decadent New Assortments - mixed media by Esther Appleyard from 'A Series of Lines' Esther Appleyard

Decadent New Assortments - mixed media by Esther Appleyardfrom 'A Series of Lines'

Image: Esther Appleyard

Exhibition of work by Esther Appleyard and Craig Kerrecoe Mixed media painting

Worcester City Gallery: 12th April – 31st May 2008 Are we a slave to the code? Are we little more than machines, programmed to function in an extremely specific way? Is identity just the result of our genetic inheritance or is it shaped by our experiences and perceptions? Can science explain all, and is there room for the unusual and unexpected? Is the quest for perfection a dangerous thing that will ultimately lead to a bland un-balanced society?

Esther Appleyard had been thinking about how she could incorporate genetics into her work for many years. Specifically, she was interested in looking at the differences that come about in dna structure, and why mutations that are different are more interesting. It was an attitude that was in complete contradisctinction to the medical model attitudes she encountered whenever she tried to research details about her condition. She decided to talk to geneticists and see how they might feed into her practicea and found Guys Hospital were very helpful. They asked to look at her images and she talked to them about her ideas. However, it was a challenge for them to have her sitting in front of them talking from her point of view - as someone with an impairment whose life choice could easily have been negated.

She went on to make 46 canvases for A Series of Lines. Each one represents a different chromosome. Her process is to make miniature weavings from translucent fibers and then to photograph these woven structures, projecting the images on a much larger scale. Her work then focuses on exposing the faults within the weave – a metaphor for faults that occur within our own genetic structures. The images are then produced as digital prints on canvas, to which is added paint, glitter and varnish, exploring the difference between the digital and the random hand-made mark – man against the machine. These images reference what could be read as a bar code or a genetic ladder. Is our identity reduced to a code – a method of storing information? Or is this not information storage but a decorative series of lines?

DAO’s reviewer said of the work "I wasn't prepared for the impact the work would have on me. I don't know whether the strength of the 'aftershock' is because both my sister and myself share the experience of being genetically excluded from what science would deem to be desirable and instead of the gloomy way the subject is often approached here was something more like a riotous celebration of colour. Or maybe it relates to the urgency of the questions that emanate from the work as we stand on the cusp of what may well be known one day as the 'post-human era'. Maybe it's partly a combination of both but it's also down to the sheer eloquence of the discourse that the work unleashes."

Lastly Esther says: "It is this concept that I feel is extremely relevant within the debate around genetic screening, we should be cautious of screening these differences out. I am keen to explore how such tiny things as our genetic codes, can have vast implication on ourselves and society."

You can read a review of A Series of Lines from Bullet Magazine on Craig Kerrocoe's website

Jon Adams

Artist explores cosmic sound A creative collaboration between an artist and cosmologists at the ICG has led to the creation of three sound pieces, available for listening to on the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation website.

Jon Adams was artist in residence for the Faculty of Technology at Portsmouth University in March / April 2008. He spent six weeks working in collaboration with the Institute of Cosmology. In the course of his visit, he created several sound pieces generated from images of supernovae - the intense explosions of dying stars. These supernovae have been co-discovered by Hubert Lampeitl, a researcher at the ICG. They were found in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, an international collaboration with key contributions from the ICG.

Jon processed the images via digital sound editing software to create sound forms, which he then layered to create the final soundscapes. In these pieces, he wishes to capture a sense of beauty, unease and wonder, reflecting on ideas of death and transformation. The work ties in with his ongoing themes of hiddenness and unnecessary words, relating to his experience of dyslexia.

Jon will now continue his collaboration with the ICG; the next step will be to create visual companions to these sound pieces, and build an interactive sculpture using stone and sound.

Jon is supported by the Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residency Scheme. For more details of his work, go to Jon's website.

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