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An interview with Dr. Simon Park

The microbial art as a means to communicate science

October 3, 2014

Dr. Simon Park is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Surrey, teaching courses such as Microbiology, Bacteriology and Molecular Biology among others. Dr. Park is fascinated by the exploration of the natural world and finds in art an optimal way of communicating this world to the general public.

The researcher agreed to tell us a little about his work and what motivates him, in this short interview:

 

SP – What compelled you to work science in an aesthetics view?

Dr. SP– I’ve always had an intense curiosity and need to explore the natural world, and this has driven my practice and career throughout my lifetime. At school, despite being quite creative, I had no technical skills as an artist and so became a scientist, and in particular a microbiologist. All through my career, I’ve be driven by a need to explore and more recently it is art and not science that has satisfied this urge.

 

SP – When did you first had contact with sci-art projects?

S Park -In my teaching of microbiology to undergraduate students I’ve encouraged them to make simple drawings out of pigmented bacteria (red, blue, yellow, pink, purple, for example) to stimulate their interest and to provide a break from the more intensive science based protocols that they need to learn. Through all of this I’d always thought that if these coloured bacteria were given  to someone who could really paint (and certainly beyond what I am capable of)  then they could be used to paint a really interesting painting.

 

SP – What was your first work as a sci-artist?

Dr. SP– In 2006 an artist called JoWonder contacted me out of the blue and expressed an interest in working with bacteria. I mentioned my idea and together we came up with the idea, and received Wellcome Trust funding, to make an animated interpretation of John Millais painting of Ophelia using only pigmented and living bacteria as the media.

 

6 Days Goodbye Poems Of Ophelia from jowonder on Vimeo.

This was a very successful project and through it I saw how art could uniquely engage a diverse audience, and in a way that is not always possible with more formal scientific approaches. I also realised that bacteria have far more to offer as an artistic palette than just providing colour.

I now see myself as both a practising scientist and an artist and in both guises I work with living matter in order to explore the inherent creativity of the natural world and to reveal its subtle, and usually hidden, narratives. As I have no formal education or technical ability as a painter or sculptor, I choose not to impose any strict human-centred design upon nature, and prefer to evoke it as a co-author in the creative process.  My simple hope is that my works will allow the interested observer to perceive biological phenomena that would otherwise be perpetually invisible, so that the hidden machinations of the natural world are brought to light. In this sense, I have  been involved in over twenty five collaborative projects with artists that have combined science and art, and have exhibited, both solo and joint work, at venues such as, The Science Museum, The Royal Institution, The Science Gallery Dublin, The Institute of Culture Barcelona, and GV Art and Trinity Buoy Wharf, London.

 

 

I thank Dr. Simon Park very much for the time he spent for this interview. In his blog Exploring The Invisible you can find many examples of microbial art. You can also use his manual “Microbiology at Home: A Short Non-Laboratory Manual For Enthusiasts and Bio-Artists”, available here, to explore microbial art at home!

Written by Susana Pereira

Susana Simões Pereira, maths teacher and PhD in science teaching and communication. I enjoy games and photography and I'm passionate for science and art, specially when together in the same context. You can follow my updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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