The exhibition was the result of nine days of intensive work in a collaborative open laboratory. It showed projects created by five groups of artists and scientists, led by artists, Andy Gracie, Adam Zaretsky, Kira O'Reilly, Bruce Gilchrist, and Anna Dumitriu.
The exhibition featured DNA tattooing, an astrobiological experiment with fruitflies, a Regency dress embroidered and stained using microbiology, interpretations of synthetic biology terminology made by the public, and a garden shed for DIY tissue culture. Laboratory Life was named after Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s well-known book about an anthropological study of a scientific laboratory.
Our science advisors are John Paul, Helen Smith and Tom Shakespeare.
The Quest for Drosophila Titanus, led by Andy Gracie
Collaborators: Kuaishen Auson, Janine Fenton, Meredith Walsh
This group of artists and scientists were engaged in an astrobiological experiment using various phenotypes of Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly). Since the early 1960s Drosophila have also played a critical role in space research and are regularly used in experiments on the International Space Station. As such they offer themselves as a perfect organism with which to conduct an experiment about how life might survive elsewhere in the solar system. Taking inspiration from diagrams obtained from NASA the group developed an apparatus with which to expose the fruit flies to various environmental conditions found on Titan. The aim being to take the first step in developing a new species which could adapt to living there. The 'best' flies from each experiment were selected to form a breeding colony which would be the ancestors of this new creature. Their exhibition of work-in-progress includes the experimental chamber, video documentation of the experiments, a printed manual which describes the experimental process, the breeding colony and the memorial to failed individuals.
The Garden Shed Lab, led by Kira O'Reilly
Collaborators: Valerie Furnham, Columba Quigley, Genevieve Maxwell
This group created a space for exploring the relationship between biotechnologies and domestic everyday experiences, such as cooking, tinkering, composting, and gardening. They build a garden shed in their laboratory and inside worked with tissue culture - a technology now just over 100 years old. In order to practice home tissue culture, they made a sterile laminar flow hood and a tissue culture incubator. The group incubated chick embryos, opened the eggs, and attempted to create cell cultures from them, always mindful of the ethical issues of these practices. The group explored the early histories of tissue culture, re-creating an experiment first performed in 1926 by tissue-culture pioneer, Thomas Strangeways, who attempted to harvest cells from a fresh uncooked sausage. Their exhibition of work-in-progress features their garden shed lab, containing their home-made sterile hood and incubator, their laboratory equipment and photographs and video they made whilst on site.
Public Misunderstanding of Science, led by Bruce Gilchrist
Collaborators: Kate Genevieve, Simona Casonato, David Louwrier, Daksha Patel
This group of artists and scientists spent several days testing the public’s understanding of science. Visitors to their laboratory were invited to draw and illustrate their understandings of scientific information and protocol, while listening to scientific discourse on synthetic biology. Their exhibition of work-in-progress is an animated film, which features the drawings sound-tracked with the original discourse and field recordings made on-site at a medical laboratory.
Infective Textiles, led by Anna Dumitriu
Collaborators: Rosie Sedgwick, Sarah Roberts, Brian Degger, Melissa Grant
This group of artists, doctors and scientists worked on the development of a textile-based artwork that takes the form of a Regency style dress stained with bacterial pigments and patterned by antibiotics. Their work used ‘garage science’ methods and ‘DIY’ microbiological processes to explore the notion of infection control. During the lab they cultured microbes from the local environment including soil, buildings and other public places. They then stained silk thread with natural antibiotics – including cloves, turmeric and green tea – and used them to create embroidered patterns on fabric. Their exhibition features the Regency style dress, which has now been pasteurized so that the bacteria are no longer living, video documentation of their project, framed works (which show slides of cultured bacteria and moulds, Gram’s stain paintings embroidered with antibiotic threads and drawings made by visitors to the lab) and a table of items used in their lab.
Tattoo Traits, led by Adam Zaretsky
Collaborators: Zack Denfield, Helen Bullard, Simon Hall
This group of artists and doctors examined the feasibility of a new notion – “DNA Tattooing”. They explored the ethical, legal, and health issues that might be raised by such a process. Their work involved the creation of a "new media" which they have referred to as Shecan, and the extraction of hybrid DNA from this media. They then adapted a tattoo gun, with the intention of tattooing a novel sequence of hybrid DNA into the nucleus of a living cell, something which is statistically improbable, but conceptually possible. Their exhibition of work-in-progress features The Shroud of Shecan, a monoprint cloth containing the residue of their new media, Whirling Dervish Human Centrifuge, a sculptural and performative device which also contains Shecan, the adapted tattoo gun, beans which have received DNA tattoos, photographs of their work, and a release which the group adapted to manage the legal and contractual issues associated with DNA tattooing.
Laboratory Life is organised by Lighthouse and The Arts Catalyst, with support from the Wellcome Trust. It was conceived by artist Andy Gracie, based on the Interactivos? model developed by the Media Lab Prado in Madrid.