A crimson collision of science and art

We all bleed, and from a young age we are all acutely aware of the blood that runs under our skin. Blood is the life-force that flows through every single one of us, it is universal. Regardless of this, there are so many topics and issues surrounding it that individuals and societies will instinctively shy away from discussing them. Why? Because blood is associated with pain, with disease, with impurity, with life, with death.

Between now and November you can experience BLOOD: Life Uncut, a free exhibition and event series presented by Science Gallery London, part of King’s College London. The exhibition is located at the Copeland Gallery, Peckham, and features a collection of incredibly creative, immersive and striking pieces, all exploring the scientific and symbolic nature of blood. Many issues are covered, including menstruation, Ebola, sickle cell anaemia, blood donation laws and many, many more. During the press preview at the gallery, its director, Daniel Glaser, reinstated that: “Through our exhibition and events you will experience how blood is a powerful trigger of memory and emotional response, and see how it inspires research at King’s and beyond. Come and be a part of stories and conversations throughout the season and feel the stuff of life flow through you.”

The pieces fit beautifully within the space, with low lighting and spotlights used to draw you toward each of them, through curtains and around corners. Behind one door Jordan Eagles’ Blood Equality fills an entire room with projections, covering visitors in images of blood from sexually active gay, bisexual and transgender men. The Hotham Street Ladies’ You Beaut is an icing and sweets explosion, occupying the walls of the men’s toilet. Casey Jenkins’ Bad Blood features a pair of knitted sculptures, including Casting off my Womb, which went viral online in 2013. The negative comments and backlash she received were the inspiration for the other featured piece, a huge blanket created especially for the exhibition.

The exhibition’s theme and the setting are both incredibly intimate, blanketed in a darkness not quite dark enough to be felt as sinister. There isn’t an excess of text accompanying each piece, simply a small sign with a minimum of information about it and the artist. The pieces dominate the space, they are the focus. This prevents an information overload, and creates an ‘information gap’, as Daniel Glaser explained to me:The pieces make you want to seek out more information. To me, this adds to the immersive nature of the works — they aren’t there solely to educate you, but to award each visitor with a uniquely personal experience. Some use accompanying videos. One of my favourites was Cecilia Jonsson’s Haem, which presents as a fairly nondescript metal needle spinning like a broken compass on a stand. On the wall nearby a screen with headphones plays a film documenting the creation of the needle — the iron was obtained from 69 human placentas. I won’t spoilt it for you.

Throughout my visit I kept finding myself confused, then intrigued, then drawn in. I knew each of the pieces had something specific to convey, but it wasn’t always immediately apparent. I think this actually made me enjoy them more, as they present scientific themes and ideas in elegant ways my scientifically-trained brain could never have thought of. For anyone seeking a crimson collision of science and art, this exhibition should be top of your list. The permanent home of Science Gallery London will open in London Bridge in 2018, joining a growing global network of Science Galleries, each connected to a university. If this pop-up exhibition is any indication for what’s in store when the gallery doors open next year, London is a lucky city.

A full list of works featured in the exhibition, as well as links to register for the host of free events, can be found on the Science Gallery London website: https://london.sciencegallery.com/blood/london/about/

Joy Aston is studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London

Banner image: Blood Orange, Flickr

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