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> > > Curing Perfect Lab at Brighton Science Festival

Learning disability-led organisation Carousel is currently developing Curing Perfect, an online graphic novel which challenges users to think about the nature of perfection in the context of genetic screening. They hosted a drop-in event at Brighton Science Festival on 19 February. Review by Sarah Pickthall.

An illustration by William Hanekom taken from the online graphic novel Curing Perfect. It depicts Paragon, the city where the novel is set.

Illustration © by William Hanekom/Carousel

I was keen to see if the Curing Perfect Lab would give us more of the haunting world of Paragon, the fictional city which is the setting of the graphic novel. But no, instead we were treated to something a little more fitting for the festival; a playful delve into some of the complexities that inform the wonderful venture that is

What is it about art and science projects and the white coats? I just don’t like it, never have done, and it certainly makes for discomfort. Of course, this is the desired for acidity, but this was quickly softened with a test tube of sweeties and a curious Curing Perfect card to fill in through the playful tests on offer. Nice one. William Hanekom’s edgy illustrations throughout are collectibles, or will be. They are simply wonderful. 

Learning-disabled artists steering, shaping and presenting is a best practice model but the 'nothing about us without us' cry of the learning-disability movement is still relatively unknown in other spheres.

"I love the model of having the artists owning the activities/event as much as possible"  

- Dr. Christina Fuentes Tibbitt, Engagement Manager, British Science Association.

For those of us not au fait with the ethical debates and scientific claims around genetic engineering, this project is vital to developing the largely unheard voices of those of us who have congenital impairments and more often than not find ourselves sitting outside the ethical and scientific conversations that affect our lives. What an apt festival for Curing to work its particular magic.

It was great to see Becky Bruzas at her test station, challenging us to find the green rogue stem cell, amongst thousands of white foam balls in different sized plastic containers; such a great and clear illustration, brought to life through conversation with Bruzas who is such a strong advocate for the project and what it hopes to achieve.  

In the next few months we will see Bruzas and colleague Sarah Gordy working closely with Dr. June Jones (Head of Biomedical Ethics), Dr. Geoffrey Brown (Reader in Cellular immunology) both of University of Birmingham, and trainee doctors. They will talk openly and directly in a bid to inform conversations and shape the way that the lived experience of learning-disability is spoken about. This is such an important facet of the project. 

A true or false science table was an equal winner for me, with Tina Dickinson on hand to help us myth bust some of those things that we believe are scientifically true but are simply not. I felt slightly ashamed to have made such terrible gaffs about stem cell regrowth possibilities in this game. We are always so quick to make assumptions and believe some of the false science around us 24/7 which often unknowingly shapes our thinking in its overriding pursuit of perfection – even for those of us who think we are informed.

Among some of the other tasks was tongue curling – something which I had been led to believe was all in the genes – but it turns out that this skill can actually be learned. Well I never!

I was sad to miss 46/47 by Nadine Heinze and Marc Dietschreit which was playing in a side room, but I was just too keen to claim my final ‘prize’ for filling in my card: a delicious beverage of my own construction, an ice cream milkshake from event partners BohoGelato. 

Ice cream companies in Brighton are some of the strongest supporters of learning-disabled artistry and innovation in the city, it seems. Gelato Gusto sponsored our SprungDigi Crew's Dares U event, and now this. We need all confectioners to come on board with learning-disabled digital artistic enquiries – helping us all mix the sweet with the sour!

And what of Paragon? Well, we’ll just have to wait until later in the year. Jason Eade, part of the online story development team, was eager to note down my own desires for the world of Paragon which is still being formulated. For me, I want to see behind those beautiful buildings, more playful interactivity that takes the theme and the thinking further and puts the genius of Eade, Hanekom and developer Alex Peckham online for everyone to engage with.