This is a blog about my interests in science and art and how I am working within and between the boundaries of the two.  There will be posts on my current research on the tropical disease leishmaniasis and the insects (sand flies) that spread the disease and my interests in microbes. Also stuff that interests me where artists are working  on an equal footing and in close collaboration with scientists.

My journey into ‘artscience’ for want of a better word started in Liverpool during Capital of Culture year 2008. I was desperate to do some art work related to my research on tropical diseases; the superlambanana wagon came along and I hitched onto it and got the LSTM to sponsor a lambanana. That was when SuperKalazarlambanana…the name that was far too complicated and everyone mispelt, was created one afternoon between myself and my PhD student Hector Diaz. (see also LSTM page on our lambanana).

We work on the blood sucking sand flies that spread parasites called Leishmania. Together with other scientists we are working on diverse aspects of the parasite and sand flies, trying to understand how the insect transmits the parasites, sequencing the genome of the sand fly Lutzomyia longipalpis from South America and also studying the epidemiology of the disease with colleagues in Brazil.

banana1 banana2 banana3
banana4 Rod and Ektor lead the painting of the Lambanana which included finger dots by 180 staff and students. banana5

The disease is also called ‘Kala Azar’ (the Hindi word for Black Fever) hence the name of the sculpture, Super’kalazar’banana.

Leishmania parasites
Leishmania parasites
Tiny sand fly on thumb
Tiny sand fly on thumb

The design was a liberal, artistic interpretation of the life cycle of the Leishmania parasite as it moves between the insect and the human. This was Hectors original sketch…

original drawings

The representative images of the insect (wings, eyes, mouthparts and stomach filled with blood), Leishmania parasites (complete with tail-like flagella) and human form (with three coloured skin layers representing the human race) were fused with symbols inspired by Australian aboriginal art.

The idea is to take elements of modern science and draw on ideas of ancient Aboriginal art, specifically dot painting and ‘dreamings’. The ‘Papunya Tula‘ were a group of Aboriginal men that started using western art materials to produce so-called dot paintings. Papunya Tula literally means ‘honey ant dreaming’. Honey ants have stomachs swollen with honey, they function as living larders and this links in with the depiction of the swollen blood-filled gut of the sand fly on the sculpture.

The sculpture was positioned outside LSTM and allowed the viewer to walk around the installation, from the rear and side you see the stomach of the insect containing a meal of blood with purple parasite forms flowing out, moving round to the front of the sculpture the terracota female form, shaped like a Venus figurine, appears leaning forward. Behind her and rising above, in the tail, are the white wings and brown eyes representing the deadly blood sucking insect.

We were excited by the response from the public and also the staff at LSTM.  I could see from this very simple start that there was a lot of exciting things that we could do both ourselves and with the arts community. Modern science research thrives on ideas and creativity and meetings that we have with artists set off that creative spark in all of us.

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