The Biochemistry Department at Oxford University in collaboration with architects Hawkins Brown commissioned four artists to make permanent art works for their new building. The project was called Saltbridges which is a term in protein chemistry that describes ion pairs, a form of strong interaction between oppositely charged residues.
It refers literally and metaphorically to the dynamic relationships between artists and scientists that the project encouraged. Saltbridges aims were to; commission new art works; to encourage intellectual dialogue between research scientists and artists and to establish an outstanding contemporary art collection for the Department.
The artists selected for the commissions were Peter Fraser, Nicky Hirst, Tim Head and Annie Cattrell.
All of them worked closely with the scientists (who are world renown in their professional ﬁelds) in order to make new commissions for the building that referenced concepts and ideas about the research that is undertaken in this speciﬁc environment .
Saltbridges included two large-‐scale commissions on glass by Nicky Hirst (The Glass Menagerie and Portal).
A residency in Structural Bioinformatics and Computational Biochemistry by Tim Head resulting in a digital light work and design for the atrium carpet (Light Cycle and Open Field).
A photography residency by Peter Fraser leading to large-‐scale photographic works for the new building.
Annie Cattrell worked closely with Professor Jonathan Hodgkin whose research on the genetic development of the nematode has contributed to the winning of a Nobel Prize in 2009 (at Cambridge University) and him wining the Genetics Society Medal in 2012.
This research investigates how the combining and synthesis of current artistic, and scientific methods, can form new, and challenging approaches, and discourses, in the production of site specific artworks.
The methodology for this output is informed by the seminal text by CP Snow on ‘The Two Cultures’ (1959), and subsequent contemporary publications that revisit the art, humanities, and science discourse, such as ‘Art & Science’ by Ede (2005), and ‘Visualizations, The Nature Book of Art and Science’, by Martin Kemp (2000).
The research question was intended to show how art, and science, can or cannot, combine to make new aesthetic, and conceptual approaches to making art.
The methodological process involved questioning:
1. The scientific method, as a way of understanding living matter, including ethical, impartial and empirical approaches.
2. New approaches that can inform sculptural language, as mediated through the use of 3D prototyping, and laser technologies.
3. Visual aesthetics, and the use of metaphor, in combining artistic and scientific intentions, and concepts to form new artworks.
This research lead to Cattrell being commissioned, by Oxford University, to make ‘0 to 10,000,000’ which is a suspended permanent artwork for the air space in the atrium, in the purpose built new Biochemistry Department, designed by architects Hawkins Brown.
Initially Cattrell had dialogues with Professor Jonathan Hodgkin, of Oxford University Biochemistry Department, about current biochemical research, and more specifically his research into developmental genetics. Hodgkin’s recent research had contributed to the joint winning of a Nobel Prize in 2009, at Cambridge University, and winning the Genetics Society Medal in 2012.
The title of the commission ‘0 to 10,000,000’, refers to the numerical range of the temperature within matter, suggesting and referencing an understanding through scientific measurement, of the complex relationship between a single unit, and a mass of units or particles in a dynamic state of inter-dependency.
‘0’ relates to freezing, where no movement takes place, and ‘10,000,000’ to the inner temperature of the core of the sun, which is a plasma where matter is made, and new elements are formed. Plasma is the fourth state of matter, which is not solid, liquid, nor gas. It is composed of free moving electrons and ions, which are atoms that have lost electrons, and under certain circumstances, protons and neutrons, which makes up 99% of the visible universe. The idea of plasma is relevant from the cosmic, to the bio-molecular scale.
Cattrell’s work was composed of a multitude of coloured, suspended resin bird formations. The colours of the birds references temperature. and the overall effect of the piece is to make a metaphorical, sculptural, genetic plasma. The configuration of the work used the flocking patterns of 156 casts, which where made from two taxidermy birds. These were laser scanned, digitally abstracted, and reconfigured using rapid prototyping techniques.
Represented beyond the literal, the flock referred to the genetic scientific use, and understanding of living organisms, the dynamic potential of living matter to act as a metaphor, because everything is in constant flux, and the questioning of how three dimensional visual representation can suggest holistic vantage points of understanding complexity.||en