‘We began as part of the body’ at the Edinburgh Science Festival.
Prof Sara Brown’s recent collaboration with artist Beverley Hood appeared in an Edinburgh Science festival exhibition in Summerhall. Sara and Beverley launched the exhibition with a recorded interview discussing their work.
Prof Sara Brown’s research work focusses on the inflammatory skin condition atopic eczema. Her group work to understand the genetic mechanisms that determine how skin is made and how people are more or less likely to develop eczema. To do this they use skin cells donated with patient consent and grow them into organoid models in the lab.
Beverley Hood is an artist and reader in technological embodiment and creative practice at the Edinburgh College of Art. As part of the collaboration with Sara, Bev spent one or two days a week in Sara’s lab over a six-month period, observing the research work undertaken by members of the group and attending talks and seminars given by team members. It was during this time that Bev became interested in the journey of cells - from the operating theatre where they are collected, to the lab where they are cultured and grown into an organoid with a three-week lifecycle, to its eventual destruction and disposal.
Taking this inspiration, and working with Sara, her team and other members of the University of Dundee (where Sara was based at the time), Beverley created the work titled, ‘We began as part of the body’.
The work includes a film with a scripted description of the skin cells’ journey through a research lifecycle. This script was brought to life using a speech-synthesised voice called “Heather”, with a Scottish accent, reflecting the Scottish patients whose donated skin cells start this journey.
In addition, Bev also created an augmented reality app and a collection of 3D-printed cells. The latter were created using fluorescently labelled antibodies binding to either the cells’ nuclei or their cytoskeletons. Using confocal microscopy, these labelled cells were imaged and, working with the team at the University of Dundee, Bev was able to translate these images to CAD (Computer-Aided Design) files which could be 3D- printed. At a 2000-fold magnification from the original organoids, these pieces help bring the shape and structure of the cells to life. In fact, Prof Brown has her own version of the 3D-prints used for public engagement activities.
Beverley’s work is displayed in Summerhall with a selection of items from the University of Edinburgh library historical dermatology collection. This brings in work spanning from 1860s with drawings of patients with pathological skin conditions, a drawing of the histology of layers of the skin from 1905, to Prof Brown’s own images of skin histology in the 21st century. Reflecting on the images included, Prof Brown highlighted the importance of acknowledging the patients who have donated to the research, their contribution being invaluable.
It’s a great privilege to work with such a talented artist as Bev – she asks a lot of questions and makes you look at things in a different way! I never really considered research from the skin cells’ perspectives, but it highlights the unique and very valuable role that human samples play in translational research.
We Began As Part of the Body - Artist Talk with Beverley Hood (Youtube video)