I often think if I’d been brought up posh I would have done English at university. I was lucky to grow up in the pre-fees, maintenance grants era and, with no career guidance, I studied biochemistry, and have never really left the university setting. I’m glad I ended up in science despite my many other interests, as I seem to have been able to catch up with most of those on the side. Being an academic biophysicist, in addition to being an exciting, rewarding job in its own right, has somehow given me the credibility to pursue all kinds of other projects.
Having friends in many different fields has made me realise that we have a lot more in common than first seems obvious, especially in the ways our daily lives pan out. We all chose our subjects because we enjoyed them and have been funnelled into management and now need all kinds of skills in which we haven’t been properly trained and are still feeling our way. Whatever our job, we have to do some combination of thinking, researching, calculating, brainstorming, convincing others of the value of our plans, gathering resources, hiring people with relevant talents, creating, delivering and publicising products.
To promote these ideas, and explore the lesser-acknowledged creative aspects of science and technical elements of arts, I joined forces with a group of talented artists from London Fine Art Studios in Battersea, to explore the similarities in the ways that scientists and artists work. I roped in six science influencers, including a state secondary school science teacher, a politician with a science background and a radio science presenter who kindly donated some of their time. Each one of us had our portrait painted or sculpted. While this was going on, some expert videographers filmed the chit-chat between painter and sitter, and amazing discussions revealed all kinds of parallels between their particular art and science practices.
Our project is called Viewing the Invisible as it illuminates common experience which is not immediately obvious, and reflects the ways in which scientists deduce a lot of things indirectly and artists deconstruct their subject to recreate the image. A free exhibition of the portraits, films and sculptures will be on display from 2-22 September 2019 in The Arcade, Bush House on The Strand. One of our artists, Ann Witheridge, is live-painting one of the UK’s leading scientists, Professor Dame Janet Thornton, at the National Portrait Gallery alongside a panel discussion about our project on 15 September 2019. Tickets are available here. We were lucky enough to raise funding for this project from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council and we are now looking for ways to take our show on the road to other cities in the UK. Please get in touch if you would like to host us.
About the author:
Rivka Isaacson is Reader in Chemical Biology at King’s College London and she tweets. For more information about “Viewing the Invisible”, visit King’s College London website here.