Interview with Dr Darren Nesbeth

IMG_1536Dr Darren Nesbeth is currently a lecturer at UCL, a member of the Royal society of Biologists and member of the institution of chemical engineers. He specialises in the themes of Bioprocessing and Synthetic Biology. We were able to get in contact with him after going to explore ‘London Hackspace’, located in Bethnal Green; a shared space which provides for a variety of disciplines, including a laboratory for the members of ‘BioHack’. Through writing to the club, Dr Nesbeth generously gave his time to discuss his past experiences with art alongside his profession.

He discussed taking part in a project and competition named ‘International Genetically Engineered Machines’ (iGEM). The multidisciplinary group he had advised in 2010, managed to gain a gold medal whilst competing against 128 other universities around the globe. During this period, he was able to work with a Central Saint Martins (CSM) student, David Bennett, and a past Slade School of Art (UCL) student, Giulia Ricci. Together with students from Biochemical Engineering and Science and Technology, their project produced a technology which boost productivity and reduce the cost of drug production. We would like to try and email the practitioners mentioned as they too show an interest in the art and sciences.

For our group, it was fascinating to be able to get a point of view from a scientist who had engaged with art through many different experiences. In some cases, Dr Nesbeth suggested that scientists can have the capacity to potentially dishearten or demoralise artists. In the broadest terms, an example would be collaborating to make a new material, which incurs in a realisation that the process can take long periods of time; something that could be too prolonged for an ever changing and developing art practice.

On the other hand, artists have the ability to inspire scientists or engineers into becoming artists themselves. By comparison, Dr Nesbeth proposed that there are similarities between the two disciplines. Ideas of this could be the creative process of experimentation in order to achieve an intended outcome, as well as the craftsmanship which can be arguably involved in producing both art and aiding advances in science.

Thinking about the workshop that we had provided for the Beavers, Cubs and Scouts to encourage and interpret their engagement with art and science, we asked Dr Nesbeth whether art can make science more accessible to the public. From this he questioned whether art is accessible to the public. In some cases, like micro-biologist and ‘Exploring the Invisible’ blogger Simon Sublime, artists can make mundane data and the unknown more tangible and ‘aesthetically pleasing’. This question is interesting and could be seen as rather controversial; one that us as a group cannot answer. However through our research from this project and the workshops completed, we could say that the overall experiences we and others have produced with the influence of science have been able to encourage emotive responses through discovery, experimenting and learning, allowing an appreciation of both disciplines.

Dr Nesbeth audio

Art and Science – A Perspective of a Medical Student  

By conversing with a forth year medical student, Ams Blenkinsop, studying at King’s College London, we found a first person perpective on the modern views of how art interacts with science

When you look at figurative art, do you view it from a medical perspective? 

AB: Yes, I find it helps a lot when I’m trying to sketch as well!

Have you ever considered teaming up with artists to further your knowledge of medicine?

AB: Yes but I don’t have a lot of spare time because of my course.

As medicine and technology are constantly advancing, do you think anatomical drawings and sculptures are a good source of information?

AB: Yes, I prefer using drawn textbooks because I find them easier to understand anatomy from. I can relate to that because seeing cadavers and live surgeries is hugely different from textbooks; real life offers way more anatomical variation. It’s way harder understanding anatomy without cadaver experience!

How has art influenced your practice?

AB: I don’t think it has influenced my practice so much, but I find I enjoy art much more because of my experience in anatomy.

Do you think artists can educate the public in a more playful manner?

AB: I can imagine that art would be very helpful to members of the public as it provides a much less gory and possibly a more easily understandable representation of the human anatomy

Interview Questions for Eleanor Crook

To what extent do you feel you’re allowed to be contemporary in your practice?

How do you feel your practice is challenging art & science?

Have you noticed a change in the techniques and styles of medical art since the start of your career?

How has your practice changed medical art?

How do you see your own practice in relation to other artist in the same field?

What is your favourite medium? And why?

Why did you choose medical art?

What has been your most accomplished piece of work? And why?

Do you feel like you create work that is controversial? If so why?

Do you feel that there are many limitations in your practice?

How do you feel you have overcome these limitations?

What is the most challenging part of your work?

As an artist what are your main inspirations & how have you incorporated these inspirations into your practice

How would you like people to engage with medical art in the future?

With technology growing how do you feel the medical art practice will change?

Interview with a Physicist

How useful do you find art images in both your work and in a teaching capacity?

Extremely useful. I think I’m probably going to be talking more about what I would call graphic design than necessarily art but that’s only to say, I guess, the only difference is functionality. Although obviously in a scientific context, images need to be very functional because they need to explain something. Thus, I really believe that a picture speaks a thousand words. I use this all the time in my teaching, for example when I am trying to explain something complicated. I always try to use images, such as diagrams, because it helps me structure my thoughts around an idea – I think that’s true of many people as well. This can be represented by my thoughts on the absence of any visual representation of teaching maths in school. It is surprising as maths, in particular, has possibly one of the longest discovered histories that dates back to the Ancient Greeks. They didn’t have any algebra, they didn’t have a consistent system of writing numbers, they just did everything with images and geometry. So, first of all, it is a very important heritage and second of all it works. So I would say images are extremely important to art and science and particularly in the communication of art and science.

Do you find that this affects your view on art generally? If so why?

Due to the training I have had, I’ve been associated with scientific images. If I see any art based on science or if it reminds me of scientific imagery, then obviously, I have a connection to it straight away because of its familiarity. It is also quite cool that you can use maths and science to produce imagery and it is nice to see what that means. In a sense the natural world is the best example of art produced by science because science is supposed to be the building blocks of everything. The foundation of all existence and the way the universe works is then manifested in everything we see around us, so I don’t know… A beautiful view of the mountains is art produced by science. So I think you can’t divorce the two, can’t separate them. They are very important to each other I think.

Do you feel like your work challenges medical art in some way?

No, because I am a physicist and so have nothing to do with medicine

Do you feel like the medical imagery out there has finished progressing/ growing?

Absolutely not because medical challenges are constantly changing. I think in terms of public health, information and education there are things that we will need to express and I think images are a very good way of doing that. To give one example, I guess you might have little leaflets explaining what someone should do in the case of x medical emergency or whatever and that’s something in which a clear picture is much more useful than a highly detailed text. I don’t think anything in design really finishes and that there’s always better, clearer, more beautiful ways to express certain concepts. Subsequently, if the concepts themselves are always evolving, which they are in medicine, then it gets even more complicated. I definitely think that there’s an eternal future ahead for it.

The Crossover between Art and Science by a Medical Student

By conversing with a forth year medical student, Aaron Morjaria, studying at King’s College London, we found a first person perpective on the modern views of how art interacts with science.

​When you look at figurative art, do you view it from a medical perspective? 

AM: Not really, only if it’s anatomical then it’s quite interesting to try and examine all the details. Otherwise it’s quite nice to enjoy art without being so picky about detail.
Have you ever considered teaming up with artists to further your knowledge of medicine?

AM: Not really, we are subjected by the need of having to learn so much it’s easier and quicker to just find it out of a book. It might be interesting to try and use art at a later date to make some learning materials though.

As medicine and technology are constantly advancing, do you think anatomical drawings are a good source of information to counteract this? 

AM: It’s definitely becoming less useful. Online models where you can add/ remove layers and rotate everything around is much quicker and easier to use. Videos of dissections are also useful. Anatomical drawings in a traditional sense are very pretty and interesting to look at but I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be used to learn from.

How has art influenced your practice?

AM: Sometimes it can be useful to relate to people. Pieces of work related to depression, being blind or deaf are often interesting as it tries to introduce you to a world, that is hard to experience.

Do you think artists can educate the public in a more playful manner? 

AM: Yeah definitely, learning from books is boring for the public. By making it engaging and exciting is the only way to educate people. Huge exhibits like the millennium dome in 2000 can show how effective it can be if enough time/ money is pumped in.