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Art and science meet in new stress centre

Press release issued: 23 September 2004

A remarkable art installation, integrated into the Dorothy Hodgkin Building, will go on display to the public for the first time today. 

A remarkable art installation, integrated into the Dorothy Hodgkin Building, Bristol University’s new £18.75m centre for stress research, will go on display to the public for the first time today at the building’s official opening by Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science and Innovation. 

The artwork was made possible by a £50,000 Principal Institutional Science and Art Grant from the Wellcome Trust, the most prestigious such grant offered by the Wellcome Trust, and a £30,000 grant from Arts Council England.

The artwork, called Double Gazing, is installed in five large, arched windows on the building’s Marlborough Street frontage where it will be seen by tens of thousands of passers-by every day.  It consists of 25 light-emitting boxes built as shutters, made of a transparent film material called Duraclear, into which stylised images of interior and exterior views of the building have been embedded.  Short films stored on DVDs will be projected from inside the building onto the light boxes at peak times of the day.   

From the outside, passers-by will see a colourful stylised representation of the inside of the research building taken from the architects plans.  Set into this are five screens, three of which will show specially made films inspired by some of the fundamental ideas in bioscience.  In each film, shadowy figures make patterns using coloured blocks to illustrate the structure of DNA, apoptosis (the process by which cells can trigger their own death), molecular recognition (how molecules recognise their partners) and randomised trials (how random allocation is used in clinical trials). 

What the passer-by cannot see is that the other side of the windows carry high resolution images of the street outside on a sunny day – representing the scientists view of the outside world.  The difference between what the public outside and the scientists inside see is captured in the artwork's title, Double Gazing.

The scale of the work is deceptively large, with over half a tonne of shutters and 5Gb of computerised images.  

The windows are the brainchild of Portsmouth-based artists Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer who were selected following a national competition that drew nine serious submissions.

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.”

 The scheme is also 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. 
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