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Two intriguing art exhibitions have opened in the last three months at two of the most significant scientific/medical institutions in the United Kingdom. Crossing Over: Exchanges in Art and Biotechnologies, at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, which ran until 21 November, was curated by Caterina Albano and Rowan Drury for Artakt at Central Saint Martins, and funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Arts Council. Delineating Disease, drawings by Lucy Lyons, is at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons until 23 December.
Collaborations between art and science are now well established in the UK, with the help of pioneering funding institutions such as the Wellcome Trust. How and why dialogues are set up between artists, curators and art historians on one hand and scientists and medics on the other is important, as is the impact and the visual value of the art created and put on show.
The institutional context of the collaborations is also relevant, as are the outcomes of such collaborations in the long run for both the artists and the scientists involved. The whole process is therefore of a complexity that is worth reflecting on.
The Royal Institution, in London’s Mayfair, is an organisation devoted to scientific education and research. It was founded in 1799 by the leading British scientists of the age, for “diffusing the knowledge, and facilitating the general introduction, of useful mechanical inventions and improvements; and for teaching, by courses of philosophical lectures and experiments, the application of science to the common purposes of life”.
Throughout its history, the institution has supported public engagement with science through a programme of lectures, many of which continue today. The most famous are the annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, founded by Michael Faraday, a former director of the RI, in 1825, at …
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