Blog posts

Artists in Residence Blog Posts 2022-2023

Blog #2: Charlotte Dunn

I have joined a research team at SMQB who are developing a mobile app that will aid in the treatment  of leprosy. The app which is currently in development, will contain self-care instructions for the treatment of leprosy and will be used by carers in Nepal. The app concentrates on the use of a set of distinct items the patient needs in order to care for leprosy ulcer themselves and concentrates on the treatment of lesions on the foot. 

After meeting with the team initially self-care became the stand out element of the development of the app and that the app will provide a distinct list of items for the patient, they will need for them to care for their leprosy themselves. After reading testimonials from patients, provided by the team, the importance of self care and cleanliness became even more prominent with patients stating that ‘Self care is part of my daily routine and I need to take care of my eyes, hands and feet’.  To me the items listed in the app that patients needed for self-care, had huge importance as became a tool kit for the patient in order to aid them in their recovery. The items included a chair, bandages and soap amongst others. I initially picked up on the importance of the bandages within the work, that they would hide the ulcers, highlighting the stigma of the disease, but were also used as a crucial item in the self-care of the ulcers. I began casting the items in bandages as well as my own feet, using the bandages alone to create the effect of the importance of the items as a tool kit for the self-care of the disease. I also began to make drawings and detailed studies of all of items to highlight their significance.

Charlotte Dunn 2223 (1)
Charlotte Dunn 2223 (2)
Charlotte Dunn 2223 (3)

A few weeks after this initial work, I had a meeting with Dr Alex Zhigalov, the member of SMQB from the group to investigate further, the programming of the mobile app and how it will be used to determine the diagnosis of the different selfcare. Alex explained that the instructions the app gives to the patient is based upon the readings of colours, specifically red, blue and green, in imagery of the patients ulcers. After taking an image of an ulcer the app effectively separates the image in to certain colours and the more red present in the image of the ulcer indicates its severity. The more blue and green within the image indicates the ulcer is healing and a graph like the below is produced in the background and then determines the self care instructed. 

Charlotte Dunn 2223 (4).jpg

The importance of the colours within the operation of the app became something I then wanted to take forward in my work. The image of an ulcer became the indication for how much care was needed in order for the ulcer to decrease, so the items that were used for self care, that I had earlier concentrated on, were still of significance. As the app effectively pixelated the images to read the colours of the ulcer, I began pixelating images of different ulcers and microscopic forms of leprosy. I found here that the red, blues and greens could become prominent as they do within the programming of the app. To still integrate the element of self-care as well as the importance of items I have begun to construct the pixelated images of the series of ulcers from small bars of soap. I added colours to the soap and cast them as pixels in mainly different hues of reds, greens and blues, as the apps reads. 

Charlotte Dunn 2223 (5).jpg
Charlotte Dunn 2223 (6)

I then have begun creating a sort of mosaic of the pixelated images. I hope to make 4 soap images of the ulcers of different severity using the coloured soap to illustrate the importance of the self-care and highlighting one of the crucial tools of caring for the ulcers (soap) as well as showing the programming of the app.

Charlotte Dunn 2223 (7)
Charlotte Dunn 2223 (8)

Blog #1: Tom Ellis

As I write this blog, you find me progressed nicely into this sculptural collaboration after a busy weekend of assembling various elements of the scaled up Bacteria Model. I have really enjoyed the process and stages of getting to this part of my Residency. The initial meeting with the Caroline and the Birmingham Uni researchers last year gave me a real insight and inspiration into how the science and an artistic approach could connect. Forming something that is potentially  useful in educating but also has its strengths as a piece of sculpture/art. I love collaborating with groups of people who come to the table with very different ideas and hearing what they are passionate about, in this case micro biology. This approach often sparks more interesting ways of creating and allows me to explore new techniques, textures and forms in my own way of designing/sculpting. I really feel this is the case in this project and hope that its reflected in the final model when demonstrated to different groups of people. 

After the initial meeting with the researcher at the start of the project, I came back to the group with designs, technical questions that I needed answering and a small concept model. This was a great stage in allowing me understand what the research group needed from the model and all the details to be included in the final demonstration model. This included details like; scale of sculpture, colours, areas of bacteria model to be focused on for explaining how it works and other technical elements. This gave me and hopefully the researchers confidence in the direction for the final model, allowing me to progress to the next stage. I went on to scale up the concept sculpture to form a new final wire frame of the bacteria model approximately 80cm across. I chose a very large size so it can capture peoples attention when demonstrating in a classroom/event, hopefully drawing people in to look inside the inner workings of the Bacteria and learn more about the science behind it. After finishing the skeleton of the model (wire frame/structure), I’ve gone on to add the skin layer (body of the bacterial), this is my own sculpting media made from lots pva and tissue. I have also acquired a wooden stand for the bacteria to be displayed and demonstrated upon. See the featured picture to show my current progress this week. Lots more to do but coming along well, looking forward to adding colours and textural layers next, my favourite part!

Tom Ellis (1)
Tom Ellis (3)


Artists in Residence Blog Posts 2021-2022

Blog #4: Agi Haines

I am a designer who believes that design plays a big role in how we form mental models of the body. Or in other words, the way we visualise, make, image and communicate the body can significantly change our comprehension or perception of it. This is why this residency is so exciting for me. I have had the honor of working with a team who are designing a fascinating imaging technique to better comprehend the inner workings of a cell. In the case of this particular research project they are focusing on detection of cancer. But the way the image is captured could tell completely different stories about other diseases.

I feel I have learnt a lot from this group of researchers: Robert Neely, Paul Roberts, Anthony Samuel, Dave Smith, Fabian Spill, Sabrina Kombrink. Their research spans vastly differing domains but they have come together to collaborate on this project to make visible the “control panel” of the cell. They are looking at the epigenome, which they describe as a series of switches. They can find out which switches are active by visualising the proteins made in the cell and ultimately decipher which cells are healthy and which are cancerous using this technique. This is potentially an extremely fast diagnostic technique that happens at a cellular level.

They have produced some beautiful snapshots of cells in multiple ways and after a visit to the lab it is clear that cells are far from static. Rob spent a whole day walking me through the process from initial growth of the cell to the final depictions digitalised through their microscope suspended on air on a specialised platform. 


digitalised lab microscope depicting the cells

  Snapshots of cells suspended on air on a specialised platform.


I took a scan of the lab, mainly to recall where specific actions take place and to remember our conversations, as much of the work is happening on things that are not visible to the naked eye. After this insightful visit and conversations with the team two salient observations stayed with me. The first being the reasons your cell switches are initiated to turn on and off. According to the team, this can be for a number of reasons but their research really brings to light the impact of daily decisions. Although we are often warned of carcinogens it is quite sobering to think that perhaps even a decision like having stronger cups of coffee in the morning could potentially dictate the change of the switches in the cell. Then seeing Paul present the little blobs on the screen, which I later 3D printed, could be the warning signs for the development of a larger lump. This made me think that even though it may take time and hard work for this to be an available diagnostic technique, the research project this team is conducting could also be considered an important immediate awareness campaign. 

Lab scan video

Secondly, at the end of the day of my visit Rob spent some time reflecting on the larger picture and the trajectory of the research. Cancer research is of course an extremely worthy cause, but it was fascinating to hear why this particular project challenge was worthy of Rob’s creative and scientific efforts. It became clear that the cells are valuable in many different ways but they have particularly high research value as they contain significant information that can gift us better understanding of a disease that impacts so many.

With this in mind I have been exploring lots of techniques to create an interactive work that will encompass both of these thoughts. Initially testing some online AR experiences. Now we have moved to the idea of creating an interactive work where audience members generate their own speculative cells in the gallery based on their actions/movement. This has involved learning new software to react to the audience’s motion. The speculative cells will emulate the methylation seen in the cells the team have been imaging (the little blobs that appear to indicate the beginnings of cancerous growth). Then I am trying to explore ways in which we can indicate how dangerous that cell is vs how helpful it might be for research and understanding the disease. 

Motion tracking video

The overall idea is to show that our cells have value, it seems that when they are inside the body they are considered functional individual assets, but once they leave the body they are for utilitarian gain (for example for important research to help the many). Cancer cells in particular have a significant and high stake value as they are highly damaging to the body as a whole but also can reproduce rapidly, making them prime real estate for research. Tracking the value of our cells once they no longer become part of the body might raise questions about ownership, once cells leave the body should they be material for utilitarian or individualistic gain? And might changing our view of the value of cells encourage people to take part in research?

Blog #3: Lucy Hutchinson

For the SMQB residency at the University of Birmingham, I have been working with Niki KaravitakiGabriela da Silva Xavier, Amy Coulden, and SMQB Fellow Alexander Zhigalov on research into precision medicine in acromegaly using metabolome analysis in blood samples. Acromegaly is a rare condition that is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland in the brain. Otherwise known as gigantism, the condition causes excessive growth and a range of additional medical conditions in children and adults.

Whilst in residence, I have been engaging with the team through monthly meetings to try and understand the processes and aims of their work as well as draw comparisons with my own ways of working and research-led artistic practice. Alongside this, I have also been conversing with patients to gather their perspectives. These interactions have been largely experimental and I have used the time to explore new data-driven technologies such as the program TouchDesigner, build collaborative metaphors and consider the relationship between visual art practices and the representation of the condition historically and in the present day.

I started the residency by talking directly with two female patients who are currently in remission to better understand the lived experiences of the condition. I was keen to center the patients within the context as a way to bring a more ‘human’ aspect to the work which I often find is lacking in data-driven practices. During our conversations, we spoke a lot about how the condition impacted and continues to impact their day-to-day life both physically and mentally. For women, it seems the condition is particularly challenging. As the condition is hormonal it often significantly impacts fertility in addition to causing noticeable changes to one’s physical appearance - including enlarged facial features, hands and feet, as well as weight gain, skin problems, facial hair growth which both women felt significantly impacted their self-confidence and notions of femininity and general wellbeing. Throughout our conversations, we also discussed metaphors that could be used to describe their experience of the condition to others. These included likening the experience to being on a rollercoaster, the tv show ‘Storage Wars’ and a box of fireworks (which could go off at any moment).

After our initial conversations, I was keen to explore how the condition has been represented in visual culture and art history to think through how I might approach making an artwork. Within my own practice, I explore how storytelling and visual cultures shape and produce our understanding of the world, often in relation to new technologies. As a result, I started to gather a database of images from popular culture, scientific journals, and art history to think through how the condition is depicted and question how these images public perception and by extension impact the lived experiences of people with the acromegaly. Mimicking some of the processes used in the research I created a series of collages in an attempt to find patterns, whilst also endeavoring to produce new narratives by cutting and reconfiguring found material.

Digital image collage of modern and historic art

The resulting assemblages featured a range of images associated with the condition from to many different time periods and genres which were connected through visual similarities as defined by human and computer algorithms.

In parallel to this, I also started to work with the data which is being collected, coded and deciphered as part of the research project. Using the data as a material I created a series of digital images or paintings. This was made possible by feeding acromegaly and control data into the computer program Touch Designer. The data comes in the form of an excel sheet with numbers relating to different metabolites which are present in the blood. Using these numbers, I programmed a digital paintbrush that made marks by moving around the screen, in this context the numerical data could be seen as a kind of digital hand creating the image.

Digital image of data creating a digital painting of multiple colours
Digital image of data creating a digital painting of multiple colours
Control data painting
Acromegaly data painting

Moving forward, I was keen to see how these two approaches might work together. Through my monthly conversations with different people on the research team, I have learned how and why this data is being collected in more detail. In this context, it seems the data is being used to map different areas of the body and in doing so reveal a larger picture of how it functions.

Jewish mother and father in black and white photograph partially visible looking up towards ceiling
Jewish mother and father in black and white photograph looking up towards their tall son

          Data-driven image reveal stills (paintbrush)
          Original photograph: Diane Arbus - A Jewish Giant at Home with his Parents in the Bronx,
          New York, 1970

This process was described to me as a kind of road system where more data makes it possible to navigate and discover different areas, routes, and connections. In response to this, I am currently developing some interactive images that use the data to reveal images of people with the condition.

Dark canvas with swirl patterns emerging from top right corner
Digital image showing outline of hands with swirl pattern
Digital image of two hands side by side showing an enlarged hand and normal hand with swirl patterns
Comparison between a hand enlarged due to a pituitary gland disease and an adjacent healthy hand

            Data-driven image reveal stills (roads/streams)
            Original photograph (Bottom, right): Acromegaly: a comparison between a hand enlarged due to a
            pituitary gland disease and an adjacent healthy hand. Photograph (by E. H. Cobb ?), 1870/1890.
            Public Domain Mark)

Moving forward, I hope to develop these ideas and refine them in line with the different processes which are used by the research team. What I find most intriguing about the project is the collaboration between multiple different disciplines which is necessary to achieve the aim - networks of expertise, material, and data flow together to form a larger picture. In a way, it reminds me of a Rube Goldberg machine, many elements work together as a kind of contraption to achieve a goal. In this case, the goal is to try and identify a biomarker in the blood which would help identify if someone has the condition.

Cartoon of man in suit sitting at dinner table with self-operating napkin machine                           Rube Goldberg machine - self operating napkin

I am also keen to explore the option of creating some new images of people with the condition to change the negative narratives and often harmful depictions which are associated with it, whilst also making visible a condition that is not widely understood.

Blog #2: Karina Thompson

Bedtime stories and electrical starbursts (working title)

As an artist I am interested in data.  In the past this has led to collaborations with paleopathologists, cardiologists, haematologists and geneticists. I am interested in how information in one context can be processed into words, numbers, graphs and charts, so it can be understood in another.  Outsiders and the uninitiated see only random jumbles of letters and digits, lines and squares, but if you understand how to read the ‘Code of the Data’, you can see what could be literally life changing information determining diagnoses or medical treatment.

embroidered neural network matrix

Embroidered neural network matrix showing levels of electrical activity between points in the brain of a child presenting with epilepsy

Epilepsy is a common brain disorder that causes repeated seizures. It can be very difficult to find out if a child has epilepsy, and when they have other conditions at the same time, this can be even harder. Two of the most common conditions that affect children with epilepsy are autism and ADHD. They also affect children's behaviour and brain function. When epilepsy, autism and ADHD are present, it can be very difficult to come to a clear diagnosis and to decide treatment. The research project I am in residence in is looking to examine electrical brain activity of children with and without these condition to develop computer models that show how these disorders affect the brain.

In our first meeting with the team of Leandro Junges, Andrew Bagshaw, Samuel Johnson and Danny Galvis, some of them described themselves as physicists pretending to be mathematicians. It was clear very early on that there wouldn’t be visits to look at big machines doing things, examining of blood or tissue samples or watching things growing in culture dishes; I wouldn’t need a lab coat. This is a project about harvesting key elements in tests of electrical brain activity (electroencephalogram or EEG) and then developing algorithms to find commonalities that might indicate links within the diagnoses. 

Although the outline doesn’t state it, this is a project also about sleep. Testing in sleep can be more likely to show abnormalities and that the change of state from wake to sleep will bring out the relationships between epilepsy, autism and ADHD more clearly. During sleep the brain is in a state that can provide additional and complementary information regarding those disorders But a child or young person presenting with epilepsy is invited in daytime, to a strange place that they might not have been to before (in this case Birmingham Children’s Hospital), to put on a strange and bulky head cap with lots of wires and 21 sensors that touch the scalp and asked to fall asleep. This is something that we all would find difficult to do. In a wider context, the quality of a child’s sleep has a direct effect on their epilepsy.  Tired individuals with poor sleep patterns are more likely to have events or seizures.

The data from the EEGs is analysed by specialists and a 20 seconds long epoch to calculate the networks can be produced from each result. This shows the level of electrical activity in the brain picked up by the sensors. The network epoch looks like a decagon with a regular scattering of dots representing the sensors in relation to their placement on the head.  The dots are interconnected to each other with a range of thin and thick lines. The denser the line the more correlated is the activity between two points in the brain. Some points remain unconnected. This information can then also be presented on a matrix of blocks of tone or colour illustrating the levels of activity between points. If these patterns are seen reliably, we may have a new way of identifying whether a child has epilepsy, and understanding how their brain activity is affected by symptoms of ADHD and autism’


Screen grab of epochs and matrices of two subjects illustrating differing levels of electrical brain activity

I began to experiment with the imagery of this data, programming it into the specialist embroidery software mySewnet, that would allow me to embroider it out using digital embroidery machines.  I made networks in delicate running stitches, chunky triple stitches and thin lines of satin stitches on black cotton drill to test my digitising before repeating them onto printouts of matrices.  Feedback from the team was very positive.  I began to create embroidered matrices with a spectrum of rainbow colours.  Danny gave me 13 lines from the 500 lines of code he is working on and I stitched it over the star like epochs.  I sought out textiles associated with children and sleep and have begun to embroider and overlay networks, matrices and code on children’s pyjamas and blankets.

Neural network epoch being embroidered on paper printout of a matrix of the same test

Work in progress.  Neural network epoch being embroidered on paper printout of a matrix of the same test

As a research team we have been meeting most fortnights to discuss the progress of the project as a whole. It’s interesting to hear the team talking of excitability and synchronicity, maximum cross correlation, frequencies and mean degrees. They sometimes talk with passion about things I don’t understand; I don’t have the Code of the Data, but that’s alright; they explain the important bits and always answer my questions.

Embroidered lines of code on photocopy of embroidered neural network epoch

Embroidered lines of code on photocopy of embroidered neural network epoch

When collaborating with scientists or clinicians I try and take a co-creation approach.  I talk to specialists, making work on the basis of those conversations and then show the samples back to them to see if I am using the information correctly.  I make work informed by the opinions of those ‘educated eyes’ but I am also interested in the lived experience.  Now in the Age of Wikipedia everyone can look up information and try and understand.  My plan for this residency was always to ask the children and young people and their families their thoughts about the images that I am making and to find out their thoughts about the networks, matrices, stars and block of colour I am creating.

childs pyjama topChild’s pyjama top embroidered with a neural network epoch

The Omicron outbreak really messed up our plans to have a family day where I could informally talk to them whilst they did craft activities to see how they felt about their condition and get feedback on my initial samples.  We are now hoping that I can safely meet with individual families and do craft activities that will allow those conversations.  I would like to ask families to swap a pillowcase that their child has slept on for a new one so I can embroider the data from this project onto the place where they have laid their sleeping head.

Blog #1: Charlotte Dunn

As my artist in residence with the SQMB team I am joined with the research team who are investigating the automation and statistical refinement of an unsupervised analysis pipeline for measurable residual disease (MRD) testing in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This project involves developing new software that can detect remaining leukaemia cancer cells within the bone marrow in patients after treatment. The software will improve the test accuracy and make it easier for tests to be carried out, allowing more people to use MRD testing to improve outcomes for acute Myeloid Leukaemia patients.

As the project began at our 2 day incubator I found it extremely interesting to learn about the background of the project and what the research hoped to achieve. What greatly intrigued me was how the results of the testing was visualised. The graph type formations that are used to diagnose AML in the lab through flow cytometry, were filled with a whole range of colours that represented the cells. These colours were based on fluorescent inks that are added to cells before the tests. The idea that these brightly coloured formations are used to identify if someone has or still has leukaemia, yet the patient never gets to view these is something I hoped to carry through my work.

Through the research I then learned that the team were hoping, through the newly developing software, to look at these graphs in another way, changing the perspective on how they look at the results. Essentially the new software will help them compress the number of graphs into one cluster of colours or cells that will then further improve the way that they identify the leukaemia cells. This cluster really intrigued me especially how beautiful the colours this created and I began making drawings of these based on the images of these the team could provide me with.

leukaemia cells
cell art

Through regular meetings with the researchers I have seen that they are changing the perspective on the way they look at the results of the testing through their research and it is this compression of the visuals and change of view that I hope to develop in the work I produce. I have therefore started to create perspective in the clusters, experimenting with making a fluorescent cell clusters in resin, as well as making individual leukaemia cells within resin that can be hung to reflect perspective. The fluorescent colours I have use match those used in the testing.

circles of colour

On the 16th November I visited the haematology lab with the researchers to learn more about the process of the testing and how the inks are used within the cell samples and how the valuation of the results are created. This was incredibly insightful and I saw first hand how the researchers are looking to improve the look of the results so they can improve the identification of the leukaemia cells.

Charlotte Dunn

I will now continue to investigate how I can represent the colours of cells in resin and how these can be displayed to highlight the idea that the researchers are changing their perspective on the way they look at the cells and the visualisations.

I hope to speak to patents in the near future to see their impressions of the visualisations of the results and how they would find seeing the clusters and if they had these to see whether it would alter how they feel about their diagnosis.

SMQB Artists in Residence Blog Posts 2019-2020

Blog #01: SMQB IncUoBator Artist-in-Residence

In February, the SMBQ kicked off our first artist-in-residence programme, bringing together four artists with four new research projects. These research projects are part of the SMQB’s seed-corn scheme, which sees researchers from across different disciplines paired with an SMQB Fellow and supported to collaborate for six months to testbed new research ideas and ways of working. The hope is that at the end of this period, research groups will be better placed to apply for external funding or investment as they will already have some pilot data/proof-of-concept evidence in their back pockets.

One of the most unique aspects of this scheme is our research ‘incubator’ – a two-day retreat (this year held in Bristol) that brings teams together for in-depth planning and development at the very onset of the project. This provides teams with dedicated space and time – both physically and mentally – to focus on their projects, with minimal distractions from other commitments. Importantly, key leads in professional support also take part to help catalyse decisions into action there and then, avoiding the need for teams to waste time organizing individual meetings to do this later on.

Particularly thrilling was that for the very first time we included artists as part of this incubator retreat, embedding them at the very beginning of the collaboration process. The enthusiasm and excitement in having the artists join us was palpable, both from the researchers and professional staff, as well as from members of the public involved in our advisory group who seemed especially interested in how these scientist-artist collaborations would reach new audiences through creative public engagement outputs. The two days were quite full-on and intense for all involved, as plans started to get locked into place, but there was also plenty of time to get to know each other more informally over lunch and dinner, which made the experience an enjoyable one.

Each of our artists is profiled on our webpage where you can find out more about them and see examples of their previous work. We are only part-way through the collaboration now, and in light of everything happening globally due to COVID-19, there are a few hurdles to overcome, but we thought that we’d take this moment to check-in and see how teams are getting on. I’ve also retitled the Artist-in-Residence programme ‘SMQB IncUoBator’ playing on our research incubator and the creative artist connections being made with University of Birmingham (UoB) research. Each of the artists has sent through a little update below. It’s been great to see such a diversity of artistic mediums and interpretations explored, even just at this early stage. We’ll aim to write a few more blog posts every couple of months as part of documenting SMQB’s IncUoBator, so do check back again! Until then, I hope that you are doing well and taking good care of yourself in these unprecedented times.

With very best wishes,

Caroline Gillett, Community & Public Engagement Manager
SMQB IncUoBator: Artist-in Residence Programme Lead

Artist updates

Carol Breen

I am working with the research team investigating beta cell heterogeneity. This project combines state-of-the-art Ca2+ imaging, molecular biology, chemogenetics, gene editing protocols and mathematical modelling. I am re-using cellular information, beta-cell imaging and data visualization – translating this content into new forms. At the research incubator in Bristol, I was interested to learn that oscillations play an important role in cellular processes. The team have created code which converts signals such as islet voltage traces in to sound waves and I look forward to incorporating this in to my work.

The scholar Johanna Drucker notes how a bias often exists toward assuming knowledge represented in mathematical form is an unambiguous representation of thought. Scientific data is often perceived as ‘objective’, I am fascinated by the alternative histories that might be created from this information. The nature of my work is typically abstract, as such I am thinking about the relationship between abstraction and found beauty in science. Working with the, charts, schematics, plots and the scientific models I want to defamiliarize these aesthetics and re-contextualize them for a new audience. During a tour of the labs at The University of Birmingham I had the pleasure of learning more about the live imaging techniques used in this process. I include a picture from my time at the lab and a frame of my work progress…

Fig_1. Frame from – science fictions – work in progress | Fig_2. Photograph taken from my lab research tripFig_1. Frame from – science fictions – work in progress | Fig_2. Photograph taken from my lab research trip.

Mellissa Fisher

Papilloedema is caused by intracranial pressure which creates optic disc swelling and can be a symptom of other health problems like brain tumors or brain conditions. The research I am responding to is with the POP study group who are creating an algorithm for an OCT machine to be able to diagnose Papilloedema in your local opticians, rather than being sent to A&E to go through unnecessary and traumatic procedures. My collaborators are Opthamologist Dr Susan Mollen and Mathematicians Leandro Junges and Wessel Woldman who are working with machine learning (AI) to develop algorithms to transform the diagnosis process of Pappilloedema.

The reason I applied for this project is because I was already researching similar areas of science and technology. My research has been focused on a rare brain condition, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) which cause and cure are unknown. My interest in this condition comes from first hand experience and having a traumatic diagnosis, as well as experiencing symptoms like pulsatile tinnitus, chronic back pain, severe migraines and double vision. I came into this event excited to learn more about my collaborators and work together on ideas of how to visualise the research.

The work I am creating involves data, imaging science, sculpture and technology with an overall goal to make science accessible to a wide audience and to start discussions and raise an awareness and understanding of invisible illnesses like IIH.

Before the project began I started to establish a connection with IIH UK Charity who have helped thousands of people in the UK with information about managing IIH. With the charity I am planning to run focus groups and phone consultations to enable others to share their experiences and use their data to formulate a collective representation of what Pappilloedema looks like.

My current artistic practice is understanding the human body by life casting and sculpting skeletal structures and digital MRI imaging. This stage of the residency is about experimentation and I am currently developing my understanding of algorithms with Leandro which could lead me down a different route and I am working with materials like plaster, silicone, latex, 3D printing. I look forward to sharing what happens next.

Collage of photographs and drawings from Mellissa's Installation

Pietro Bardini

I’m developing a multi-channel sound piece that mimics the interaction model between hormones and inflammatory mediators during cardiac surgery. Together with the researchers I designed an approximated version of this model, which highlights the feedback cycles and the dynamic interactions of each part (Image 1). The resulting composition will be made up of five voices with each voice allocated a distinct output, the sound sources will be arrayed following

the diagram below (Image 2). At the centre of this diagram we find the hormones ACTH and Cortisol, which make up the harmonic centre of the piece. The outer triangle is made up of the inflammatory mediators TNF-α and IL6 and an Inflammation voice. During each composition cycle the outer triangle will move the inflammation harmony from a point of dissonance towards consonance with the harmonic centre. This composition will be generated in real time using Cycling74’ Max.

Pietro Bardini Image 1

I recently finalised the programming of the model which now self sustains, but it’s only outputting numerical values (Image 3). Currently I’m designing the sounds using Modalys. Modalys is a physical modelling synthesis program by IRCAM, which can be controlled using Max. By using a digital physical modelling synth I am able to easily manipulate in real time complex sounds which are not easy to produce with standard sound synthesis methods such as additive, subtractive or frequency modulation, or by manipulating samples.

Pietro Bardini Image 2Pietro Bardini Image 3

Vicky Roden

As an artist with lived experience of extreme thyrotoxicosis I’m acutely aware of the effect it has on a person’s physical and mental health, and the far reaching repercussions on the rest of one’s life. I have a hundred stories, from embarrassing to hilarious to tragic, which I now understand as being closely related to my condition. Being part of this project has only increased that understanding, and given me a genuine opportunity to contribute to research that could quite literally be life changing. In making this work I’m using both my own experiences and exploring a variety of other aspects of the thyroid, with my initial focus being on it’s shape.

Named for it’s resemblance to an ancient Greek shield, I’ve been exploring this particular shape in relation to my own experiences. Firstly with an embroidery designed to echo the curves of the shield and the nodules of the gland, next with a recreation of the sweet pink tablets I took to manage the condition and thirdly using gold leaf suspended in resin to explore both the classical shield shape alongside the more realistic, visceral appearance. These experiments relate back to my own experiences, such as the visual metaphor of smooth neat stitchwork with a mass of tangled threads behind and the pills recreated from the sugary fondant crème which was a staple of my diet while my metabolism was racing.

My next phase is to establish links with other patients with this condition to share experiences, and to create works around visual indicators of hyperthyroidism (such as goitres and bulging eyes) together with historical references and remedies. I’m also exploring the idea of the treatment of this condition as being a combination of chance and chess including moves, countermoves and fortuity.

Collage thyroid installation art by Vicky Roden

Blog #02: Artist Residency in “Lockdown”

It seems unbelievable that we are already headed into August. But here we are, already five months into lockdown…

When we first launched our Artist-in-Residence programme, we could have never envisioned the world we’d now be living in and to some extent this new reality must itself be shaping the collaborations and the nature of the artistic work being produced. How could it not? For a start, some of our artists have been without access to their studio spaces, requiring them to skilfully adapt to working in their home environments.

For others, the spotlight on the NHS has prompted a period of self-reflection regarding their own interactions with healthcare services and personal experiences of illness or caring for others. This isn’t unique to our artists or researchers, of course. I think we have all in some way reflected on these themes. The SMQB aims to transform lives through quantitative biomedical and clinical research. Each of our incubator research projects focuses on a healthcare condition(s) and perhaps the sense of wanting to do justice to those professionally dealing with or personally afflicted by a condition is all the more heightened now. In particular, two of our artists have lived experience of the conditions under investigation by the researchers they are collaborating with. This naturally makes these projects more personal.

One of our goals was to host an exhibition of the combined artists’ works in October and this was already pretty much in place before lockdown began. Given the uncertainty surrounding just about everything right now this plan now seems rather too hopeful and I’ve been discussing options with our artist cohort. Even if we could physically host an exhibition this year, would people feel safe and secure enough to come visit it? Undoubtedly many cultural venues and arts organizations are troubleshooting these same scenarios on an even more intensified scale. It must be an incredibly challenging time for this sector – however, given their creative capacity, this community is perhaps at an advantage in dreaming up innovative solutions!

Whatever happens we will be aiming to share our progress and the collaborations with you. At the moment our intention is to exhibit the works together early next year, when safe to do so. However, we are thinking through plans for online activities later this year to bring our artists and researchers together alongside a public audience within a virtual space. To this end it would be really good to know what type of activities people would find valuable. Certainly, we hope to be able to showcase progress of the artworks themselves, but we hope that people will also be interested in hearing about the collaboration process itself – how the research is informing the art and vice versa. I’m currently on a bit of a reconnaissance mission to see what others are doing in this space, so please do get in touch if you see any innovative and effective examples of scientist-artist collaborations in the online world. Take good care of yourself and I hope you enjoy reading our artist updates below.

With very best wishes,

Caroline Gillett, Community & Public Engagement Manager
SMQB IncUoBator: Artist-in Residence Programme Lead

Artist updates

Mellissa Fisher

It has been challenging to get the project moving because of the pandemic and also as collaborator Dr Susan Mollen was deployed to work on COVID until June/July so the research project was put on hold for three months. So in July, I find myself beginning the residency again, in a different way.

So far I am finding being an artist through lockdown a double edged sword. I began with the excitement of having a huge amount of time to get work done, but I did not factor in the stress of the world during a pandemic and how uninformed the government has left us, mixing in with losing the majority of my income as events/exhibitions/jobs were cancelled. Mentioning this, I feel I have used the time as best I can to revisit previous work, make new works surrounding the current climate and developing ideas for this project.

I have taken the time to experiment with a variety of materials and to learn new techniques with materials I haven’t used before which has been incredibly rewarding and to be honest, has kept my mind moving during this surreal time.

 Mechanical heart

Over the last four months I have experienced two IIH (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension) migraines, one was worse than the other, but I paid attention to the areas of my body that were affected and started to draw how the symptoms felt. The image below is a type of mind map of the symptoms and how they feel to me. I see the image as a map of a future installation I want to make about IIH.

Throughout my research and development I noticed certain words crop up, such as pressure, prediction and pulsing. Pressure because of increased brain pressure causing Papilloedema, or pressure relating to the NHS. Prediction because of the algorithms collaborator Leandro is working on for the project and pulsing which relates to the symptoms of IIH.

I have also been working through results of a sensory questionnaire I sent out at the beginning of lockdown to the IIH community, to gather descriptions of each person’s symptoms. I am now working towards visualising this data and planning further investigations with virtual focus groups.

Overall, the project is moving at a different pace to what I anticipated, which is good as it allows more time to develop ideas, as always I am looking forward to sharing what happens next.

Melissa’s website | Instagram: @mellissafisherartist | Twitter: @MellEJFisher

Vicky Roden

This project has led to a lot of experimentation and exploration and recently I’ve been focussing on two aspects of hyperthyroidism. Firstly, the challenges of managing an overactive thyroid from a medical perspective, and secondly the actual effects of the condition on the patient’s life.

The way treatment was discussed within the research group felt to me like a mixture of chance and chess – while a doctor can see test results and prescribe medication accordingly there are a myriad of other factors at play and it can take years of testing and adjustment to get the patients levels to a semblance of normality. I’ve begun to develop a board game reflecting the difficulties of managing this – the prototype is completed and available on my website.

Vicky’s website | Cantess Facebook | Instagram: @vicky.roden | Twitter: @VickyRoden

A game of chess a game of chance board game diagramThe effect on a patient’s way of life has been a more emotionally difficult area to explore – the condition absolutely took over my life and the recovery felt nothing short of miraculous. I have few tangible memories from that time but found an old photograph that survived the intervening years. My feelings towards the person I was back then, together with the difference in my reaction to the world events at that time compared with my reactions to the very real dangers of the present day made me both realise how far I’ve progressed and be more empathetic to the woman in the photograph. I’ve always described the effect of the radioiodine treatment as being like a static filled TV screen suddenly jumping back into focus, and have used this as the basis for a short film. The first cut is viewable on YouTube below: 

First version of a discussion of hyperthyroidism centred around an old photograph


Carol Breen

Bursting Rhythms, Oscillations and Silent Phases:

Oscillations play an important role in the cellular processes that the research team is examining. I have been working with sound waves, derived from islet voltage traces and using these sounds to develop ideas for a visual score as well as re-using and re-purposing elements from schematic representations – and videos of calcium traces related to cell activity, created by the researchers. The language used to describe cell behaviour is beautifully poetic: bursting rhythms, silent phases, rapid voltage, coupling currents, fast and slow bursts, these descriptions have the potential to be re-used as dynamic indications for musical arrangement.

Digital representation of bursting rhythms, oscillations and silent phases

The team and I have talked a lot about how, as researchers, we might learn from each other, and what an audience could gain from our collaboration. We talked about what the general public might associate with the pancreas; many only learn about the diseases associated with this organ, like pancreatitis or diabetes, or for example how the endocrine functions in the pancreas are needed to regulate blood sugar.

My artwork aims to tell a more experimental story about this part of our bodies, as well as illuminating a core feature of the research – that being, how important ‘rhythmic activity’ is in both the artistic and scientific research process. My piece aims to allow the potential for the audience to experience an audio-visual response –to see and hear hidden rhythms active in our own organ. I’ve been researching visual scores created by Iannjs Xenakis, Morton Feldman and Stockhausen. Orchestras are often asked to simply interpret visual scores, musicians sometimes come at these abstract maps without any instructions relating to what these visuals imply for the player, and so the orchestra interprets shapes and patterns through sound. Other times visual music scores come with instructions or keys that gives more information about the visual elements.

In Bristol I remember one of our team saying that organs are essentially orchestras, this stuck with me, because it gives an insight into the complexity and beauty of our bodies, how inner temporalities are happening unbeknown to our everyday temporal experiences. This score will allow for potential conversations to arise surrounding some of the key elements of both the scientific process and the artistic process. I’ll begin teasing out the details of this score over the coming weeks.

In my own research I examine the malleability of data. I am fascinated by digital images, how digital images are all reduced to binary code, yet also function as visual copies in motion. I think about how the resolution of images relates to where and how images are circulated. Hito Steyerl the artist and theorist points out that when digital images are copied they accelerate, and the quality deteriorates. Steyerl reminds us that copies can be ghosts, or previews, thumbnails or errant ideas and that these itinerant images can be distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution (Steyerl 2009). This time I am working with a totally new economy of digital images – scientific, and this has brought up many different questions about access and circulation. I have thought about how we rarely see inside our own bodies until the orchestra is playing badly. Working with a mix of digital images, copies of high-resolution scientific imagery and schematic representations that derive from modelling predictions, allows me to think about, how complex – digital ontologies of the body are. Technology is blurring distinctions between the human and its others. No longer can we define human existence by unique temporal and spatial coordinates. Digital interfaces disrupt relationships between once separate spaces and increase the complexity of the digital temporal. It is interesting to think about the role rhythm plays on a number of different levels in relation to this research project, to try to understand more about how pattern and rhythm is used in understanding cell activity, while also thinking about rhythm in relation to the algorithmic, the circulation of the digital images, as well as the rhythms of my own methods of re-making in digital space.

Digital representation of bursting rhythms, oscillations and silent phases

Pietro Bardini:

Since the last update, I’ve been optimising the sound design of the audio channels that will be representing the cytokines TNF-α and IL6, and the overall Inflammation. Since these sounds are generated in real-time through the use of complex algorithms which simulate the sound of metal plates (a synthesis technique called physical modelling ), it can be quite hard on the CPU. To solve this, I removed all user interfaces from the code and some unnecessary frequencies from the sounds.

As well as this I’ve been designing the harmonic centre for the piece. 

The harmonic centre functions as the pivot of the composition. As the piece proceeds, the cytokines and the inflammation channels will move from dissonance to consonance with the harmonic centre (pic). The harmonic centre represents the hormones Cortisol and ACTH, its movements mirror the internal feedbacks that occur between Cortisol and ACTH as shown in the study.

I am currently fine-tuning and adjusting the movements of each channel. After this, I will proceed to generate a real-time visual representation of these movements which will give an insight to its inner workings. This will be shown alongside the sound piece. 

digital representation of an harmonic centre