“Karen Ingham, AHRC Sciart Research Fellow Cardiff School of Biosciences on show at the Old Operating Theatre Museum 9th November – 15th December 2006. SPECIMEN is a site-specific exhibition of artworks exploring a visual language for the changing pharmacological landscape of memory.
What is memory? Can we ‘see’, ‘touch’ and ‘hear’ our memories? What happens when we lose our memory as a result of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease? Can plant derived treatments help ameliorate such conditions?
SPECIMEN brings together plant and garden history with scientific imaging, neurological and pharmacological research, and lens-based arts, representing a development of Ingham’s previous investigations into the classification and ‘ordering’ of the body in Anatomy Lessons.
Plants, like memories, are short-lived and ephemeral. The notion of ‘specimen’ inscribes research methods from taxonomy within the natural history of both plant and animal species. One of the challenges of botanical illustration was to capture the beauty and, significantly, the ‘signature’ of the specimen in order to bring order to the world of plants, with particular regard to distinguishing the poisonous from the therapeutic. Ingham is interested in how cutting edge neuro-pharmacological research is creating a new generation of drugs that may help to control the devastating consequences of memory degeneration, many of which are derived from common plant specimens.
Consequently, the artworks are conceived as specimen cases and test tube experiments, and contain confocal microscopy and fMRI images from both plant and brain specimens, layered over photographic and time-based images. In a series of alembic and glass vanitas vases we can allegedly see the brain in the act of remembering.
SPECIMEN is part of a cross-disciplinary sciart research project ‘Seeds of Memory: Art, Neuroscience and Botany’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in partnership with Cardiff University’s Neuroscience Research Group, and involves collaboration with neurologists, cognitive psychologists, botanists, and museum and botanical curators.
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication, “Seeds of Memory: Art, Neuroscience and Botany”, available from The Old Operating Theatre Museum shop.