Last friday the 2nd of October I went to Oxford with two purposes:
1) to see a collaborative exhibition between Oxford Brookes University’s BioImaging unit and the Royal Microscopical Society, in tribute to Micrographia, the first book published on microscopy 350 years ago by Oxford academic Robert Hooke.
2) to take part in a study on social decision-making and pain, part of the main body of research by Molly Crockett 'Harm to others outweighs harm to self in moral decision making'
Purpose 2) was, initially, the most exciting as I knew I was going to be submitted to electric shocks, make-decisions and receive some money. As the day and the study progressed, I came to realise how futile this study was. As much as it was an unforgetable experience in the sense that it positively enriched me, I started to rationalise that if they are studying altruism (people like to help) and they are asking for people to come and help with their study in a controlled environment, it defeats the point of studying it because CLEARLY the people who are going there want to help!
Skipping to purpose 1).
I had decided to go to this exhibition before I was set a task, so as soon as the task was briefed, I thought this was what I was going to work with.
Brief as assigned:
Students are required to first decide on a physical space. You need to be able to visit this space during the week. it can be either in London or elsewhere but it is important that go to the space with the brief in your mind. You are then to develop work that explores and responds to the qualities of the specific space (colour, light, textures, materials, function). the work needs to consider your emotional response to the space as well as its physical attributes.
So, with this in mind I had the task of working on a mini-project which I now title 'Bookness and the building'. I am not giving anything away in the title of the book, because it will be fun for the layperson to guess what was the building about.
The Glass Tank gallery is quite near the main entrance of Brookes university, a modern campus (a little like CSM) in the middle of a gigantic park, mapped out like a small village (it kinda has the size of a small village which includes Marks and Spencer and everything). The Ambercumb building is made of straight glass, wood and metal lines, colourful bridges, wide and tall windows and sleek staircases. The ceiling is really high in the corridor/hall part, so to me a sense of verticality was initially quite strong.
It was a little bit like being in an institute's reception, where the environment is getting ready to be fully sterilized, however, not as clinical, because it felt academic as well, in the sense that it was warmed by the thirst of student experimentation, rather than the competition and rivalry of monetary success. Eventhough this building was way more modern than the buildings in the centre of town, I felt more in tune with it in the sense that it was an university. Oxford central is made of stone, which is very cold, and haunted by a historical prestige that alienates me because of its heavyness. Here the ceilings were made of glass and reflection of light shimmered in many points and edges of the interior.
The building breathes. And to add to it, it has colourful glass!
It was on the lower ground floor that the gallery was placed and I tackled the exhibition from what was clearly the starting point. It celebrated Microscopy and it was very insightful knowledge wise. The imagery was revealing of unknown beauty to the uneducated - me - in the field of micro structures.
Below are the images I found the most compelling: a) kelpe b) the anus of an ant
I surely could write stories about how angry these kelpe monsters were when the neighbouring vegetation was trying to outgrow them. Some found it quite ironic and were laughing at the conservatives for creating such a wall of obstacles, but as good old-fashioned monsters they were, they kept their scrowl over new-comers.
As beautiful as it is, I could tell you about the meeting of the mite who suffered from cataracts, and confused the ant's anus with a flower. After smelling it, it tried to pick it, but the ant wasn't too happy and they had a row.
Basic and poor display.
The display was monotonous and not creative at all. Some of the images were also placed so high-up on the wall one had to bend the neck as if looking at the ceiling, and for this reason observe a skewed image instead of getting a full plane. The informative parallelepiped-shaped notice boards were resemblant of being in a waiting room in a dentist surgery, not in a top-notch building with a beautifull and light space as a gallery. It felt clunky for its brutal symetry and flairless layout. The images were all printed in the same size, glossy paper and the printing quality wasn't amazing, as I could see the lines of juxtaposition (as you do in inkjet printers). There was one display that stood out from the rest, but again, because of its content. That was Rob Kesseler's work, professor at UAL's CSM, Chair of Art, Design and Science. However, it was fascinating to look at the inside of things.
Despite being the most creative part of the exhibition, I am not considering it for this brief. This is because this work dates back to 2011 and I knew his work from previous research. This work was a collaboration with a portuguese mega institution 'Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian' and this piece is entitled 'Jardim Porcelanico' and it celebrated microscopic imagery from different flowers. Another reason for 'not considering' this into 'Bookness and the Building' is because I feel that his other work 'Pratos, Petalas e Pixeis' is not only more recent but also more relevant to the scientist.
'Bookness and the building' a thinking and making exercise, October2015