Deconstructing Patterns: review by Nature

Visitors at the Deconstructing Patterns exhibition

Science writer and Nature editor Philip Ball explores ‘How poets and filmmakers construe complexity at the Crick Institute’.

‘This collaboration between the Crick’s scientists, established artists and young people from a community arts programme has created works inspired by what’s going on in the institute’s labs. As curator Bryony Benge-Abbott told me, the theme of patterns was chosen because a quest for order and regularity underlies the Crick’s research into various extremely complex systems. These range from genome-sequence analysis to Drosophila neurology and the development of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans

‘Australian artist Helen Pynor — a biology graduate whose work explores, often viscerally, themes relating to living matter such as human organs — filmed Crick researcher Iris Salecker describing the development of the Drosophila neural circuitry for vision. Only Salecker’s hands and arms are visible, and there is no soundtrack to explain what we’re seeing. This silent, manual choreography is mesmerizingly beautiful. It also captures the eloquence and sophistication of the unconscious gesture — and the limitations of language alone for expressing scientific ideas…

‘“The scientific story is about the movement of things in space, and hard to convey in words,” says Pynor. Salecker’s use of body and gesture, Pynor adds, “fills in some of the gaps, even metaphorically, between verbal language and spatial meaning”…

‘As Pynor notes, science does not take place in some abstracted universe where the observers have a disinterested distance from their subject. Instead, as she puts it, “the love of scientists for their subject, the presence of their own bodies in dialogue with the bodies they study, and … their aesthetic sensitivity, are all layered into their research”…

‘The exhibition also brought together award-winning poet Sarah Howe, sound artist Chu-Li Shewring and Greg Elgar, former head of the Crick’s Advanced Sequencing team…

‘“Alphabet of us, cipher deciding the exact moment genes flip on and where”, Howe’s poem begins. The words, fugitive in Shewring’s soundscape, suggest that representations of the genome are moving beyond the static, deterministic metaphors of a ‘book of life’. Shewring was keen to keep interpretation open and uncertain, aptly reflecting the dance between prescriptiveness and contingency in the dynamic unfolding of genetic information. As a first step towards a more sophisticated public image of the genome, I’ll settle for that.’

Related links

Sign up for our newsletters

Where a curious mind finds an open door. Join our mailing lists to receive updates about our latest research and to hear about our free public events and exhibitions. Read our full Privacy Policy.