Metamorphoses: Gaming Art and Science with Ovid

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of History


In 2010, bio-artist Sarah Craske stumbled upon a very early English translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses in a cobwebby corner of an East Kent junk shop. It dated from 1735, and in its nearly 300 years of existence it had passed from reader to reader, picking up layers of biological history (bacteria, viruses, skin cells) just as surely as the gods of the stories in the volume themselves changed from one thing to another. Science & technology studies scholar Charlotte Sleigh, in conversation with Craske and another collaborator (scientist Simon Park), quickly realised that the book was both a great *object* of study for a science/art project, but also a metaphor for understanding the *ways* in which science and art hybridise to create meaning for us in a world that is packed with data of biological, literary and visual varieties. Just like the real world, this book could be read as a scientific experiment (on the bacteria etc.) or as a literary or aesthetic text.

Under the direction (or refereeing) of Sleigh, Craske and Park will work together on the book to produce an exhibition of hybrid science-art knowledge. For example, they might try and recreate the organisms that have left their genes upon its pages. Or they might in some way metamorphose the book's materials back into their constituent parts (a cow for the leather, a tree for the wood pulp). The only rule is that they must agree on each research step that they take together. As they work together at the lab bench, their arguments and compromises will be documented. This record will be teased out and analysed by the project's observer, Sleigh, seeking out the ways in which Park and Craske understand and misunderstand one another from their positions in science and art. Their research choices, recorded via mind-mapping software and selected by Sleigh, will form the basis for web-based mobile game that encourages visitors to the exhibition (and other users) to reflect on their own opinions and experiences of the art/science boundary: the languages and the practices that are used in each field.

Planned Impact

Formal research outputs: a discipline-specific research paper in each of microbiology, art and science & technology studies.

Exhibition output: An immersive installation based on the 1735 volume of Metamorphoses, bringing together arts, humanities and sciences.

Game output: a playful and provocative artwork complementary to the exhibition, this interactive game will be based on a portion of the actual mind map generated by Craske and Park's interactions. The web-based mobile game will be featured (accessed via QR code) at one artistic and one scientific venue (tbc: Royal Academy and Royal Institution). The game will also be featured at the neutral venue of the main exhibition, and spread via social media. The game is prefaced by a self-classification exercise on an art/science spectrum. This data, together with player choices, will be gathered anonymously and may yield interesting patterns for future research concerning choice-making in relation to self-identification as science or arts orientation.

The core of this project's impact is the mapping of language and practice within the sciences and art, their areas of incommensurability, or apparent but false commensurability, and of genuine commensurability. Through the exhibition, game and discipline-specific publication, both parties will thus be enabled to better engage with one another, to practise their own disciplines in a more rounded and humane fashion, and to engage in public dialogue.

Scientists are often interested in, and even amateur practitioners of the arts, but do not have pathways to include these modes of thought and practice in their day-to-day work. Through their engagement with the exhibition, game and published scientific research they will be challenged on some of the easier and more clichéd relationships commonly given between art and science, and through encouragement to reflection (and illustration of good practice) will begin to acquire rigorous and nuanced ways of engaging with the arts. In particular they will be equipped with ways to spot potential misunderstanding (and hence develop understanding) between languages and methods in their own research area and those in the arts. Whilst it is unlikely that a large number of scientists encountering the research outputs will go on to do art/science projects of their own, they will - arguably more importantly - take permission to act and speak more 'artistically' within the research lab, and to develop more humanised forms of practising and communicating science in the public realm (hence, an outcome analogous to the goals of medical humanities).

Artists encountering the research outputs will acquire a more critical view on the practice of science, and begin to find modes of empowerment within the imbalanced power dynamic that currently exists between sciences and arts in the UK. Like the scientists, they will be equipped with ways to spot potential misunderstanding (and hence develop understanding) between languages and methods in their own research area and those in the complementary sphere, and will be better equipped to discuss their relationship within the public sphere. Given the popularity of art/science projects at present, it is to be expected that this project will have particular impact in helping to shape the direction and quality of these.

Thirdly, members of the public not professionally aligned with either arts or sciences will be caused to think critically about their relationship and, one hopes, thereby to develop a critical perspective for future public debates concerning arts and/or sciences and their place in culture.

Finally, the data derived from players of the game will yield material for future sociological study in the art/science arena, though financial scope for this lies beyond the current application.


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Title Biological Hermeneutics 
Description A major exhibition mounted at Chethams Library - Manchester, UK in July 2017. This was the major end-of-project exhibition. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Advance coverage in Big Issue magazine April 2017. 
Title Curio: Sites of Wonder 
Description An artwork from the project was selected for exhibition in this show, mounted at the School of Arts, University of Kent 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact n/a 
Title Metadata - Exhibition at Warburg Institute 
Description Focusing on the role of metadata in art and art history, this exhibition shares contemporary reflections on the status of data, extending beyond the digital. 10 Jan 2018 to 10 Feb 2018. Our exhibit was part of a bigger show of international artists' work. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The exhibition is accompanied by a series of panel discussions in which curators, artists and academics will discuss some of the overarching themes of Metadata: how we relate to images. All events are free, follow the links below for further details and to book. Technologies of Recording | Thursday 11 January, 5pm Methodologies of Description | Thursday 18 January, 5pm Practices of Production | Thursday 25 January, 5pm Policies of Ownership | Saturday 3 February, 2pm This exhibition is presented by the international research project Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg's Legacy and the Future of Iconology and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. 
Title Metamorphoses tumblr 
Description Exhibition of images and writing. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact active social media engagement 
Title Show of work in progress 1 
Description Black Box (Central St Martins): 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact audience approx. 2K 
Title Show of work in progress 3 
Description The Laundry (Hackney): 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact audience approx. 5K 
Title Show of work in progress 4 
Description The Art Car Boot Fair (Margate): no audience figures available 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact n/a 
Title Unfolding Realities 
Description Installation at Central Saint Martins - London, UK 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact This resulted in the national MullenLowe prize 
Title show of work in progress 2 ('You're the reason our children are ugly') 
Description Letherby Gellery (Kings Cross): no audience figures available 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact n/a 
Description Science and technology studies findings:
We were able to identify specific problems preventing effective collaboration in art, science and technology in the following areas: expertise, institutionalisation, space, power relations, funding.
We identified a need for more rigorous critical discourse and suggested ways in which this might be promoted. All of these findings are in the two research articles currently under review in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (see 'other outputs and future steps')

Artistic findings:
Novel methods (entailing scientific/lab techniques) of working with microbial media were developed, including large agar printing and long-term bacterial cultivation.
A transdisciplinary concept of 'Biological Hermeneutics' was developed, enabling reciprocal exchange of ontology (microbe, text) and method (artistic elaboration, scientific elaboration). Knowledge as materiality, against the backdrop of our digital world, was developed as concept and artefactual reality.
The book Metamorphoses was brought to life, with microbes made visible that showed where humans had interacted with the pages, and with what microfauna. Latin parts of the bi-linguistic page had been subject to greatest touching.

Scientific findings:
See below

Joint findings:
We were able to identify concepts underpinning many SciArt projects, including uncritical co-option into science communication work, lack of critique, naive use of 'creativity' as linking concept.
Exploitation Route Better and more effective collaborations between artists, scientists and technologists:

Fewer disputes about IP
More equitable and sustainable allocation of resources
More rigorous assessments of quality in interdisciplinary fields
Mutual understanding of institutional cultures and differences
Greater emotional and political intelligence in handling collaboration
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description The first and major impact of the project has been in the artistic world, helping artists to think politically, methodologically and pragmatically about how sciart, an emerging field, can be pursued with greater rigour, authenticity and effectiveness. This research has resulted in two articles published in online art journal Interalia ( in the August 2015 issue, Unseen. Seen, and a third in November 2017, Between Art and Science. One article has been published in the journal Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, also expected to reach out to artists. In addition this journal has wide readership in the STS community, making them aware of our work. (Talks at the University of Regensburg and Cambridge have also engaged STS audiences with the project and its larger themes.) A second article is under consideration in another interdisciplinary science journal. Awareness of the project and the questions it has raised (including through formal survey-based research) have created informal conversations on artists' social media platforms. Artists have been moved forward in how they think about and pursue their collaborations with science. We have tentative plans to capture and advance this impact through a 'SciArt Manifesto', manifestos being an important impact tool in the world of art. A second, and so far lesser, area of impact has been in the scientific world, again helping practitioners to think politically, methodologically and pragmatically about how sciart can be pursued with greater rigour, authenticity and effectiveness. In particular, scientists have been challenged concerning their use of sciart as a communicational tool. The routes to impact here have been through the lecture at the British Science Association, participation in the 'Good Germs, Bad Germs' conference and the somewhat intangible attitude-shifts of scientists directly and indirectly connected with the project. We have drawn attention to our articles via our scientific networks as well as to science communicators. A critique of the co-option of SciArt into science communication programmes is a particular aspect of our findings.
Sector Creative Economy,Education
Impact Types Cultural

Description Ken Bruce, KCL 
Organisation King's College London
Department Department of Immunobiology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Bruce became engaged in scientific work related to the project.
Collaborator Contribution Scientific analyses of antibiotic resistance - results yet to come. Possibility of work to develop beyond the project.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2016