Visceral art show comes to life

Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 00:00

This weekend sees the opening of an exhibition in the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, that literally comes to life.

It features displays that incorporate living cells including human skin, semen, parts of fish eyes, pig and human blood and DNA.

Entitled, “Visceral: The Living Art Experiment”, it is visceral by name and visceral by nature, according to the show’s curator Oron Catts. The goal is to evoke an instinctive response to the exhibits, usually something along the lines of a cringe.

The exhibition is a true merger of art and science, says Catts, who is the director of SymbioticA, the centre of excellence in biological arts at the University of Western Australia.

He and SymbioticA manager Jane Coakley brought the exhibition across to celebrate the centre’s 10th anniversary. “It is not a science discovery show; it is an art show,” says Catts.

The exhibits were prepared by artists and not by scientists, but they were informed by scientific principles. For example one artist “paints” using living bacteria to produce pictures. Another takes cut-up pieces of DNA and uses the same technology employed in genetic fingerprinting to deliver skull and crossbones images.

Basically all the artists are interested in the ideas behind the meaning of life, “but it is an artistic representation of life”, says Catts.

Spread across two floors at the Pearse Street Gallery, the 15 exhibits show life as you have never seen it before. Tiny books have been produced with covers made from a combination of human and pig skin. Another artist produced audio speakers made from cattle bones.

One exhibit is connected via the internet to a “brain” - a dish of living neurons - at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States. The neurons “talk” to a mechanical display at the Gallery with audience engagement in Dublin relaying a signal back to Georgia that in turn changes the neurons’ response.

There is a fully operational biological lab on site where living tissues are being cultured and used to produce “semi-living worry dolls”. In Guatemala children whisper their fears and concerns to the worry dolls at night to help them sleep. The display has a microphone and visitors are encouraged to whisper their own concerns to the worry dolls which are covered in growing human tissue.

Visceral opens to the public tomorrow at noon and continues until February 25th. It is open Tuesday through Friday from noon until 8pm and on Saturday and Sunday from noon until 6pm. It is closed on Mondays. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of €5. It is suited to those aged 15 and older.