The Creative Reactions Project

An artist and a scientist undertake a fruitful collaboration to inform the public about tsetse fly transmission of trypanosomes

I am a Bristol-based artist and have recently taken part in the ‘Creative Reactions’ Project run by an enthusiastic group of scientists as an ‘off-shoot’ of the ‘Pint of Science’ project. This  partnership of art and science encouraged by  ‘Creative Reactions’ was inaugurated in 2017 in Bristol , and now only a year later, there are an incredible 40 artists and 40 scientists taking part.

Each artist is paired with a scientist by the organisers. Based on my tentative ideas expressed on the application form, I was paired with Rachel Hutchinson a parasitologist at the University of Bristol.  

Scientist Rachel Hutchinson, paired with Mary Rouncefield, during the ‘Creative Reactions’ project

We first met in February 2018 at the School of Life Sciences. I spent a very informative and interesting morning with Rachel and other members of the team. Her specialism is the study of trypanosomes; and finding out about these organisms was a new experience for me, as I previously knew nothing about them.  Looking down a microscope at these single cell organisms brought home how very small they are.

Artist and blogger Mary Rouncefield, looking at trypanosomes through a microscope.

Armed with all this information and new experience, I went home to my studio – my head spinning. I decided first of all to write down the ‘life-cycle’ of the trypanosome and the part played by the tsetse fly. To help my own understanding, I started to draw some pictures, and it is these which have formed the basis of my small book ‘The Invaders’. Rachel has sent me further information during the process and helped me to avoid any major errors.

I have set Tsetse fly as the villain of the piece.  Tsetse wears the skull and cross bones on his t- shirt  and sees himself as a ‘real bad boy’ and is unaware of the fact that he is merely a carrier of the real villains: the trypanosomes. My drawings are aimed at my own ‘inner child’ and other children. They are not scientific illustrations and my treatment of the subject matter is fairly simplistic. I have presented the book initially as a collage of water-colour drawings, hand-written text plus textiles with an African feel as an ‘artist’s book’ for the end of project exhibition.

Hand- crafted model of a trypanosome made Rachel Hutchinson

Visitors to the exhibition have been very encouraging, and a mother/scientist, has suggested that the simple text and the pictures I have drawn, could form the basis of a little book for children. I am happy for this book to be available electronically, free of charge, for educational purposes.

The project organisers planned an exhibition for May 2018 at the CoExist Gallery in Hamilton House, Bristol. Alongside the exhibition there were a number of events; talks, workshops and launch evening. There were opportunities for the artists and scientists to introduce the artworks and talk a little about the nature of overlap of art and science. In addition to working with Rachel, I have experienced other positive outcomes from the project: in terms of meeting other artists and scientists involved in a variety of research projects and seeing the artistic outcomes of other pairings.

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