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Art and science come together for Bristol

Press release issued: 28 August 2002

Media release
Art and science come together for Bristol

Dorothy Hodgkin Building art project

An innovative partnership between art and science is being forged at a landmark five-storey development at one of Bristol's most prominent city-centre locations. Its influence on the public understanding of science and on the integration of art into buildings could be far-reaching.

Five large, arched windows at the Dorothy Hodgkin Building, a new centre for medical research at the University of Bristol, will carry powerful and changing images created through sophisticated technology blending reality with illusion. The scientists who will work in the building and everyone who will pass by outside will be able to experience the art works - and, in a real sense, to be part of them.

The windows are the brainchild of Portsmouth-based artists Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer. They have been working together since 1991, focusing particularly on interior and exterior architectural spaces. They were selected following a national competition that drew nine serious submissions.

The windows of the new building will measure 3.5 metres by two metres. They will face onto Marlborough Street and illuminate a staff rest room. The windows will incorporate a transparent film material called Duraclear and a specialised glass known as Privalite that switches from opalescent white to clear when a small electrical charge is passed through it. Pictures stored on DVDs and projected onto the surfaces from inside will interact with images on the Duraclear film and with the reality of life on the street and inside the building.

The windows will respond to the changing light from day to night. The mix of projected, shadowy figures moving through illusory spaces and the half-glimpsed shapes of real people as they go about their business is expected to be particularly colourful and striking at night.

A sixth 'window' will be located in the building's entrance lobby as a free-standing structure.

The key people behind the development of the Dorothy Hodgkin Building decided at an early stage that it should incorporate art. Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine and Director of the University Research Centre for Neuroendocrinology, said: "The idea of a major new science building without art appals me - I think there's far too little mingling of the disciplines.

"Science is relatively unpopular and needs to reconnect with the wider world. And the challenge for artists is to think about scientific concepts and put them into a form that speaks to the public in an arresting manner - one that conveys something of the depth, complexity, uncertainty and excitement of scientific processes."

Professor Lightman and colleagues at the University joined forces with a range of external people to devise the project brief, draw up a shortlist of artists and make the final selection. The group included Denna Jones, Curator of the Two Ten Gallery and Contemporary Initiatives at The Wellcome Trust; Caroline Collier, Director of Bristol's Arnolfini; Alastair Snow, Senior Public Arts Officer for Bristol City Council; and Tim Stevens, a partner in Kendal Kingscott and principal architect of the Dorothy Hodgkin Building.

A key objective was to achieve something that would intrigue, inform and inspire the public and contribute to the life of the city. Project Director Dr Colin Dayan, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Medicine and Head of Clinical Research at the Centre, said: "The project will brighten up Bristol while generating interest in science in a fun way and at a level that's accessible to everyone from primary schoolchildren to professors."

Alastair Snow added: "In seeking planning permission for this building, the University was encouraged to incorporate artwork within the scheme. The University is meeting this request with enthusiasm, and the project is set to become a prime example to others of what can be achieved."

Caroline Collier said: "Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer have responded to the site and to the scientific concepts imaginatively and are developing an approach to the complex subject that promises to be seductive and thought provoking."

The scheme is linked to Bristol's award-winning Legible City Initiative, which aims to improve residents' and visitors' understanding, experience and enjoyment of the city and to connect people with places. It is also seen as a boost to Bristol's bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008.

The Dorothy Hodgkin Building is situated at one of the major gateways to the city centre, close to the bus station, the central hospitals and the Broadmead shopping centre. The windows will be seen by tens of thousands of people every day. Together with Andrew Smith's new, 18-metre-high fibre-optic sculpture Lollypop Be-pop outside the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, the windows will continue the renaissance of Marlborough Street as a place of character and interest.

The project will be linked via the web to relevant cultural and educational resources so that people can follow up whatever questions and interests it inspires.

University scientists chose six themes for the artists to explore. They are all cornerstones of biomedical science and include the project to map the human genome, the structure of DNA, and apoptosis - the process by which cells can trigger their own death.

Dr Dayan said: "The attraction for me is that it will make people think about some pretty fundamental issues, and to engage with them at whatever level they choose."

Professor Lightman added: "This will make the Dorothy Hodgkin Building an even more exciting place to work in. It will also serve as a tangible demonstration of the University's commitment to working in partnership with others for the enhancement of Bristol."

The project has been awarded a £50,000 Principal Institutional Science and Art Grant from The Wellcome Trust. The quest for matching funding is under way. Any individual or organisation interested in supporting the project is invited to contact Dr Dayan by emailing

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Copyright: 2002 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Wednesday, 28-Aug-2002 15:04:03 BST

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