Imaged a few samples of alpaca and cat hair to aid Jacqui S's musical interpretations. ~James
It's been a busy time, but I thought I should provide a summary of the Portsmouth visit that happened last week before some important points disappear from mind. The idea was to fit the visit in during the Easter break whilst it was relatively quiet. Unfortunately, Jacqui L and Sandie could not attend due to a timetable clash and a chest infection.
I thought I'd start the visit with a lecture-type chat where I would go through the hair images of the TAG members that I had imaged in March. The slides from the PowerPoint presentations are shown elsewhere in this blog. The coach arrived at Portsmouth slightly earlier than expected and so whilst waiting for Lynda and Jacqui S, we chatted about the project in general. It became obvious that some of the group were finding the idea behind the project a bit difficult to grasp. I said I'd go through this again during the presentation. I spoke about the website and the blog section designed to report the latest news and provide a historical record etc. I also handed around a contact list where TAG members were invited to provide their email addresses to encourage further two-way communication. By this time Lynda and Jacqui S had arrived.
I gave out the folders, marked with the TAG members initials, containing the images but said not to open the them just yet - everything was on the screen. I reassured the group that the images and notes about them were included in the pack and so it wasn't necessary to write everything down, although pens and paper were provided. I did say that I would be grateful if they could remove the feedback sheet from the back of the folder, answer the two questions and leave it in the lab before they went (see feedback response elsewhere in this blog).
I started the presentation with an overview of the project and that the main idea was for artists to 'interpret' the AFM images, both those given out today and previously, in a way that was personal to them. This could be done in a scientific/direct way, such that the images might be 'seen' in the artworks, or in a deeper, personal way, facilitated by the fact that the latest images were taken directly of them. I stressed that the second method was preferable, although both would fit the public understanding of science remit. Any artwork is 'allowed', as long as the micrograph(s) had provided some kind of inspiration. I mentioned that I imagined that in the exhibitions to come, some caption text might be positioned next to the artwork offering some explanation. This might provide the greatest source of public understanding after the observer had been drawn in. I also mentioned that there were different levels of teaching science to the public: in this case, me to TAG members and then TAG members getting 'in on the act' via their interpretative artworks. I think I got the point across.
I then asked the group to open their folders, remove the envelope and discretely open it to reveal their 'code numbers'. These were to allow the PowerPoint commentary of the images to proceed without pride, violence or remorse. I did make a strong point of mentioning, however, that the images presented were not representative of that hair and even less so a whole head of hair; just a few micrometres along the hair, a different story might be told! I talked about the importance of adequate sampling in science and that I didn't ask for the hairs to be cleaned, but said that these images were nonetheless obtained from them and so might provide some source of reflection.
I went through the images one by one going through their structural features and significance. Conscious of not wanting to bore people to tears with holiday photos, I cut the presentation in two by only showing one root image and one tip image, although two of each were provided in the pack. There was still quite a bit of similarity between the images and in summary, I concluded the hair samples followed the basic fragmentation patterns seen before with hair samples (see conclusion on the PowerPoint presentation). In doing the scanning, however, some interesting structural features were seen and I mentioned that these were being discussed with fellow scientists - there is still much to learn about hair!
We had a Questions & Answers session at this point. Questions included:
After this, we retired to the microscopy suite. I showed the group the various microscopes: light ('normal'), fluorescence, live cell imaging and the all-important(!) AFM (and we briefly discussed the scanning electron microscope, located in the neighbouring building). I always like to discuss the AFM probe in terms of a record player stylus.
I then asked the group whether they wanted to scan the silver fox, hippopotamus tail, elephant, alpaca, Asiatic lion - male or female - or the flying fox: I assumed that they might have been a bit fed up with hair by this stage. The hippopotamus tail won. The group were surprised to see the thickness of the 'hair' and we had some difficulty cutting it with scissors, even with the special hippopotamus tail hair-cutting scissors. We landed the tip carefully, trying to avoid crashing it into the hippo - never a good thing. The group seemed very interested and many of them got out cameras. The questions kept coming. Lynda and Jacqui S provided further examples of artistic interpretations: Hockney, Holst and Hebrides Overture. We then just had time to scan a bit of the silver fox, with associated humour, before it was time to leave for the coach. A good time, albeit slightly surreal, was had by all. ~James
Did some imaging of root and tip regions of Lynda's hair to aid her artistic interpretations. ~James
The PowerPoint slides used for the Portsmouth visit are included below. ~James
Thank you so much for our visit this afternoon.
I really enjoyed it & have more idea of what we are trying to do.
I have some ideas but whether I can paint them remains to be seen!
My hair images -the tip end shows little breakage but I think this
could be because my hair is quite short & had been recently cut.
Thank you for your time
~TAG member 'x' (name withheld)
Many thanks for your email and I'm really pleased that you enjoyed the day. I appreciate that the group have found it difficult to 'see what it's all about', but hopefully some of those concerns have now been addressed. I deliberately kept it quite vague as I didn't want to pre-empt what might come back artistically. It sounds as if you have some ideas now, so that's great!
If you have any queries or want to run something passed me etc, please don't hesitate to contact me.
I think it might take me a little while to prepare a detailed blog entry that would do yesterday's visit justice. However, in the mean time, I thought it would be worth me blogging here the formal feedback from the TAG members. In their information packs, there was a form to provide written feedback about their thoughts on the day. Specifically, there were 2 questions (I didn't want to over-burden!):
Q1) What did you learn today? and Q2) How was today important for you/how did it inspire you?
Here are the responses:
Q1. The different shapes and patterns that hair creates.
Q2. It help me to think of different ways shapes can work together.
Q1. I understand a lot more about the images we saw before and how the cuticles relate to each other.
Q2. Still a bit unsure about how I am going forward!
(Mine was the dodgy sample! - do you want more?)
Q1. Will take time to assimilate. Good to know more about aim of project and discussion interesting.
Q2. Will find out when I sit down to draw etc.
Q1. That there is a lot more to be learnt about hair than one imagines!
Q2. It was interesting to learn about the structure and what happens to it. Not sure I can apply art to it, but will try. I wonder how age affects what happens to it?
(Thanks, James, you made it interesting)
Q1. What the project is about!!
Q2. Very important, need to go away and do some thinking!!
Q2. Look at DNA - strands, connect sticks, how DNA twists.
I think that getting across the overall aim of the project has been generally quite difficult, i.e., the "not sure what we are supposed to do" questions kept popping up. I set out to deliberately to keep this a bit vague as I didn't necessarily want the artists to reproduce AFM images per se using various paint media etc, but to reflect upon the micrographs and for them to respond in a way that says something about their own identity inspired by the microscale images. I explained this a bit more fully during the session, especially near the end when gathered around the microscope after most of the feedback forms had been completed. I mentioned that I could imagine an artwork that might not look much like an AFM image, but some descriptive text along side the exhibit would reveal an insight/thought process with reference to the microworld. Lynda and Jacqui S provided some helpful examples, which will be blogged about in due course. I was left with the impression that most people were "getting it", albeit they would need to do more thinking. Not a bad thing. ~James
A very successful visit of TAG and fellow artists Lynda and Jacqui S to see the microscope suite and AFM at University of Portsmouth. Discussed the AFM hair images of the TAG members in some detail. Loads of interesting questions. Project progress, direction and possible outcomes discussed. AFM instrument explained and demonstrated. Samples examined with the microscope. Great feedback. Much more detailed notes to follow tomorrow. ~James