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Film: The making of BLOOD at Science Gallery

Rose Hiscock and Dr Ryan Jefferies talk about the making of BLOOD at Science GalleryWith nodes flung around the world (Dublin, London, Bangalore, Venice and Melbourne), the Science Gallery network shares a common vision: to inspire young adults through arts and science. To do this, the network prescribes very few rules and remains open to possibility.

Rose Hiscock: Thank you. An acknowledgement from us to country, when talking about arts and science, which we are, of course the traditional owners of this country blended arts and science for over 40,000 years in the most extraordinary way and it’s us who separated them, so let’s put them back together. Three disclaimers before we get going here, there’s a bit of language in this presentation, the second is, if you are squeamish about blood, too bad, and thirdly, we’re going to do something we’ve not done before and may or may not work; well it will work, it’s just we’re not that practised at it. So I’m the Director of Science Gallery Melbourne, and this is my colleague, Ryan Jefferies, Dr Ryan Jefferies. Ryan is one of the rising stars in the museum world, he’s a spectacular curator, a great scientist. I’m really fond of him but I have no idea whether he’ll save my life, by the end of this presentation we may be one step closer to answering that question. Okay, there are our Twitter handles, I would encourage you particularly to follow @sciencegallerymelbourne, and because I’m an over-introducer, I am sorry, team, I am going to do this, could you stand up and just wave? This is the entire Science Gallery team you are now seeing, we are it, no more, that’s it. Okay, away we go. If I can get this to work? Here’s the language. This is a quote from Joseph Corré, who’s the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, he made this statement as he burnt, he torched his punk collection as a protest to the Punk London Movement, which was in celebration of 40 years of punk, so it was celebrating the anniversary of Anarchy in the UK. Aside from this statement he went on to say that ‘Learning to be a punk is not something you can learn in a museum workshop’. It throws out a challenge to our sector that I think we need to address, which is the perception of the museum, can a museum or a gallery or a space of public engagement hold a spirit, a tone, an intent? Why are we considered dull and stuffy, and we are still considered dull and stuffy?

The Science Gallery model is trying in some way to deal with this, to try and hold an energy, it’s a gallery without a collection but it’s a gallery with a strong tone and spirit. The gallery is an international model, and when I took over the project, which was to get this gallery off the ground here in Melbourne, I started off thinking ‘Uh, I don’t know about a franchise, I’m not sure whether that’s the way to work’, but what it really is is a coop of extraordinarily clever people, people like us, located in nodes around the world that we get to draw on, collaborate and build something together. Now the target market for Science Gallery, has anyone visited Science Gallery Dublin, does anyone know the model? Yeah, a sprinkling, okay. We are chasing Millennials, so as you all know it’s a tough market to get to. We all tend to have add-on programmes for this market, but in our case they are front and centre core business and we start with that age group and then it goes up from there.

There is a core platform for the entire network, the first is this, art and science, it underpins everything we do, and the second is we’re all attached to universities. If we go to the intent of why the hell are we doing this, in Australia we have a particular issue, which is these atrocious statistics of STEM participation, and when you dive in a bit further it’s even worse when it comes to women, only 16% of the STEM qualified workforce are female. This is appalling, we should not be taking this lightly. There are two issues in this, one is just straight out gender equality, the second is what’s the science, what are we studying as a country, what do we care about if half of the population are not contributing to that endeavour? So we should all be pretty up in arms about this, we certainly are in our gallery.

Okay, quick whip around the network. The goal is to have eight nodes, sort of loosely one on each Continent. This is the gallery, the common thing about each gallery is the interface between a university and the public realm, that’s Dublin there, it doesn’t look like a traditional gallery, it’s transparent, you know, the bikes, there’s people drinking, all the sorts of things that you would want young adults to do. There’s the governor of Victoria, Linda Dessau, who’s become a very strong advocate for the project, visiting in London. She also hosted an event for us around women in STEM, so there’s real engagement at a high level. This is the London gallery, it’s a little transparent box there next to the Shard and the Borough Markets, in development, open next year. There’s the little architect’s drawing, I love pointing out the umbrellas in this photo for all the Brits in the audience, I think it must be compulsory to put an umbrella in all architect shots? Yeah, great. Then in Bangalore, the gallery’s in development, we’ve just announced a node in Venice, in a building right on the Grand Canal, which will be quite amazing, and then here we are. For those of you who are Melbournians, the corner of Grattan and Swanston Street, the University of Melbourne have bought this whole block, the women’s hospital site, and we’re redeveloping it as an innovation precinct, so the combination of the Science Gallery, start-up companies, R&D functions of established companies, very big Fab Lab, and the graduate programme for the engineering faculty. So the concept is innovation, a whole bunch of people rubbing shoulders accidentally in a research and development perspective. We will be announcing our design and the architect in the next couple of months for the whole site, it’s 40,000 square metres, of which the gallery is 4,000.

So I’m going to turn to my colleague, Ryan, to talk from here, to bring this to life for you. We’re going to talk about the programme and we’re going to talk particularly about blood. It’s that one.

Ryan Jefferies: Thank you. Thank you, Rose, and hello everyone. So yes, I’ll just move that back, on to the risks really, and Science Gallery is about risks, we are about pushing boundaries, and we want to challenge the norm in a way, so really mixing things up. So here’s our mission statement, and this is across the network, and our challenge really is how are we going to prepare young adults for a very chaotic, challenging future. Up ahead we’ve got things like artificial intelligence potentially taking over, we’ve got the massive impact of climate change. So these are certainly on the horizon, so we want to then inspire young adults to be engaged with science and technology through creative means. So we’re about breaking down those traditional silos of different subject areas and throwing different disciplines together and seeing what those outcomes are.

So there’s three core Science Gallery objectives, and these are Connect, Participate and Surprise. So we really want to then connect artists and scientists, engineers with musicians. We also want to then connect people with robotics, we also want to connect young adults with ideas. In terms of Participate, we, as part of all of our programmes, want young adults to be hands-on, so unlike traditional museums and galleries we want people to touch our artworks, we want people to really be engaged, we want people to be part of the experiment itself. We also encourage participation through the process of an open core for all of our seasons, so we encourage anyone with a good idea to submit an idea that then can potentially be commissioned as part of our seasons. Then finally there, Surprise, we are, as I said, about challenging the norm, of being provocative, and we really want people to say ‘Wow’ about science and technology and exploring these in really creative means.

So these here are some of the examples of seasons that have been explored particularly by Science Gallery Dublin in the past, and the general idea is that we have very large overarching themes that explore very relevant and topical ideas. So this is from robotics to risk even, to really the future of food, to green machines there, and I’d like to point out the yellow one up the top there, Infectious, because my background is as a scientist and a speciality in infectious disease, and this was one of the early seasons for Science Gallery Dublin and they had the tagline ‘Stay Away’. So when they launched this exhibition the gallery was wrapped in biohazard tape saying ‘Stay Away’, and coincidentally the opening coincided with the outbreak of Swine Flu. People were quite concerned, they didn’t know whether they should be entering the gallery space, but in a way it became marketing genius, a lot of people did enter the gallery and there was thousands of people participating in this, and a core to all these seasons is an experimental element. This is an example from Infectious, because this was an experiment that became an artwork, so this is Kiss Culture by Maria Phelan, and these are culture dishes of horse blood, and the idea was to get people to kiss them and they were then added to this wall, and then they were incubated and all of this fungi and bacteria would grow. So very individual, it was this idea that everyone has an individual bio-flora on their lips, and it then encouraged people to return to the gallery, so they’d kiss the plate, they’d put it up on the wall, and then they would visit again to see what had grown on their plate and also on their friends’ plate.

Also core to all of Science Gallery seasons is peer-to-peer learning, so we have mediators within all of our exhibitions and programmes, so these are young adults themselves who are inspired by science communication, and they’re there to explain the science and concepts behind many of the works that are exhibited.

Rose Hiscock: Ryan, I might just pick up then, just talk about the… one of the interesting things about this network is the association with universities. So obviously we’re chasing Millennials, obviously universities are where they hang out, so we’ll wash all of the science communication students, all of the journalism students through our gallery as part of their courses, and at the moment we’re doing a very extensive series of podcasts with all of those students that we then put online, so we’re absolutely embedding young adults into every stage of this process.

Ryan Jefferies: So on to BLOOD, and this is the very first season for Science Gallery Melbourne, it will be a pop-up season, and it will be run simultaneously with Science Gallery London, first for the network, and some really exciting opportunities then of co-programming across different Continents. So in terms of blood, it is a very delicious theme to begin with, is one that resonates with everyone, and there’s a lot of sub-themes that we can explore, but I certainly don’t want to give too much at this early stage, but I will say that there will be real blood as part of this and also there will be experiments. So to put these words into action I want to do a little experiment with Rose here. So I’ve just got a question for Rose to begin with.

Rose Hiscock: Yes.

Ryan Jefferies: And perhaps the audience as well. Do you know your blood type, Rose?

Rose Hiscock: Strangely enough I don’t. I think I did it before I went on my first big trip overseas and I think I might be A-, but I’m not sure. Ryan, do you, as a scientist?

Ryan Jefferies: No, no.

Rose Hiscock: You do not know?

Ryan Jefferies: So I don’t.

Rose Hiscock: You serious?

Ryan Jefferies: Shamefully I don’t know mine either. So just a show of hands, who knows their blood type here?

Rose Hiscock: Oh wow.

Ryan Jefferies: Yes, so quite a few, probably 50-60% in the audience know, so not bad, but there’s certainly a lot who don’t, and more and more young people don’t know their blood type, and it brings up interesting ideas around identity, individuality, but also in terms of blood donation, again fewer and fewer younger people donate blood. So a new blood type test has been developed here in Melbourne by researchers at Monash and has been further developed by Hemokinesis. So we are going to be little guinea pigs today and bear with us while we set this up, Rose and I are going to find out what our blood types are, so one for you, Rose.

Rose Hiscock: Thank you. Let me turn this little bizzo on.

Ryan Jefferies: So we’re just going to –

Rose Hiscock: I’ve got old lady hands, how did that happen? Is that on? Yeah, there we go.

Ryan Jefferies: So, Rose, just –

Rose Hiscock: And we just need to point out, this is a prototype that our colleague, Jim, who’s in the audience, has brought for us, he’s made one of these up specifically for today. Sorry if you can’t hear me, but we will say more about it in relation to our BLOOD exhibition in a moment. Right.

Ryan Jefferies: Alright, so we’re just going to swab our fingers, and hopefully you’re not too squeamish, Rose, about blood, and we’re going to … actually a bit of a juggling act, we’ll open these first.

Rose Hiscock: I just have to point out here that we have to do our own finger pinprick, and I’m not sure about you but I’m not so crazy on it, but here we go.

Ryan Jefferies: So, Rose, just make sure that the setting is on the deepest, yeah?

Rose Hiscock: Great, yeah.

Ryan Jefferies: What we’re going to do, so this is the test, we’ll have the result in under a minute. So we’re just going to take the cap off, if we can.

Rose Hiscock: Jim, it was easy before. No.

Ryan Jefferies: Always the dangers of live science.

Rose Hiscock: Yeah. Jim, we may need some help to get the cap off, we’ve failed at the first hurdle.

Ryan Jefferies: Ah yes, there we go. So you just pull that off, there we go.

Rose Hiscock: Literally we are doing this for the first time. Okay, and now?

Ryan Jefferies: Alright, so, Rose, if you put that under the camera.

Rose Hiscock: So just to show you what I have to do myself is push this little purple bit into my finger here and prick, okay?

Ryan Jefferies: Alright, so we’re both going to prick.

Rose Hiscock: Right.

Ryan Jefferies: Are we ready? Ooh, that didn’t hurt too badly.

Rose Hiscock: Didn’t it?

Ryan Jefferies: And just show everyone the blood there, Rose. Yes, real blood.

Rose Hiscock: Real blood, real blood.

Ryan Jefferies: And what we’re going to do is we’re just going to squeeze a drop of this.

Rose Hiscock: Going to show you what we’re doing.

Ryan Jefferies: Right into the centre and just fill that right up, and you might have to squeeze it a little bit more, Rose, get a little bit more blood out there, yeah. Alright, and we’re just filling up.

Rose Hiscock: Look at yours!

Ryan Jefferies: I might demo mine there because I’ve got a lot more blood! Alright, so we’re just going to leave that for one minute, so let’s count that down, and while we’re waiting for the result, and the great thing about this test is that it is only a minute, much faster than traditional means, I’m just going to talk a little bit about ABO blood type. So humans do have this ABO blood type, and then it really is then this idea of who can be a blood donor to save someone else’s life. So the idea really here is, can Rose save my life or can I save Rose’s life in the event of needing a blood transfusion? So how are you going there, Rose, you’re getting a bit more blood out?

Rose Hiscock: Well if you’re waiting for me to save your life you might just be waiting a bit. Is that enough?

Ryan Jefferies: Yeah, we’ll give that a go. We’ve got about 15 seconds to go and then we’re just going to rinse this off. I’m going to stick a Band Aid on my finger so it doesn’t bleed everywhere.

Rose Hiscock: Ryan, just talk us through, how long …? This is really interesting technology and an advancement, you know, previously, in terms of taking your blood, finding out a blood type, would take how long previously?

Ryan Jefferies: It would take probably up to 20 minutes to get a result, so much longer than this. Alright, so we’re just going to give this a little rinse now, here, and we’ll just rinse this off, and hopefully we’ll have the result.

Rose Hiscock: Excellent.

Ryan Jefferies: And do you want to do the same, Rose?

Rose Hiscock: Yeah.

Ryan Jefferies: If you just grab your little wash and just keep washing this. So always the danger of doing a live experiment, but we are getting a reveal there.

Male Voice: Yeah, you didn’t have enough blood.

Rose Hiscock: Do we have to do it again?

Male Voice: That’s an A-, you can see, A would react…

Rose Hiscock: Jim, is that enough? So I’ll show you my blood or do I have to prick again, is that enough blood? No? Okay, I’m going to prick. Oh no, I can’t. Oh yeah, there’s another. Okay, you keep going.

Ryan Jefferies: Alright, so we’re going to keep going anyway while Rose has another … so if we can bring the slides back up. So here we go, here’s the ABO blood type, and really this explores the idea around the immune system with antigens and antibodies and, as I said then, compatible blood typing, of who can actually donate to another person. So I’m going to take this one step further and the idea then of blood types and then also the immune system can be explored in a more interesting way when we bring in the creative side, so we bring in some artists, and this was a work from Science Gallery Dublin, May the Horse Live in Me, in which Marion Laval- Jeantet injected herself with small amounts of horse blood. Horses have a very different blood to humans and actually have eight different blood types, and from a scientific point of view we certainly wouldn’t encourage people to do this, but Marion did this and was quite successful in introducing tiny little bits into her own bloodstream to develop an immunity to it, to the point where she was able to inject a much larger volume and then produce this performance piece where she became a Centaur. Really then, from a scientific point of view, this is really interesting, because what’s the future in terms of genetic engineering, in terms of human/animal hybridisation, and already we have the technology to produce pigs that could be genetically engineered to have human blood. So this is then the value of the artist perceptive, of really pushing boundaries where science cannot go at this point.

So just a little, quick wrap-up of where we’re at here. So as I said, inspired by the original Dublin exhibition, and then Melbourne and London have gone through an open core process, we are exploring six sub-themes, we had nearly 350 submissions through our open core, we’ve had two different curatorial advisory panels, experts in blood, who have then helped sift through the submissions, we’ve created a shortlist and are in the process of creating a season. The season will be three months this year, from July until October, and there’ll be co-programming between both Melbourne and London, so very exciting times in terms of this for our inaugural pop-up season for Science Gallery Melbourne. How are you going there, Rose?

Rose Hiscock: I’m just going to re-prick. Getting quite good at it.

Ryan Jefferies: Alright, so I’ll just also say we will be encouraging people to eat blood at some point in the season, so it will be then very interactive, but exploring six sub-themes, Taboo, Stigma, Identity, Giving, Health and Sport throughout or programming, but we also want you, and we will be piloting a new concept as part of our BLOOD season and this is the idea of a Science Gallery pop-up lab, and this is made from sustainable recycled materials, it can be flat-packed and shipped around, and then there’s an opportunity to take Science Gallery outside of the normal gallery space, to take it into regional areas, remote areas, and broaden the engagement particularly then with young adults around some of our programming activities.

Rose Hiscock: Just leave that there.

Ryan Jefferies: Yes, alright.

Rose Hiscock: We’ll see how we go. So for those of you who are keen to work with us there will always be a laboratory part of what we do, we will always be experimenting, we will always be taking a component on the road, it will always be a pilot to a degree. So we’re not interested in polished, finished, beautiful end points, we’re interested in enquiry, in curiosity and experimenting, particularly with our audiences. Yeah, that’s going to work. Okay, where we want to finish is with the gallery itself and back to the project, so BLOOD will run from July till October of next year. As Ryan said, we’re doing it in consort with Science Gallery London. We have together run an open core, selecting work, some of it will be in London, some in Melbourne, some in both, what it’s providing is an export opportunity for Australian arts and sciences. I’ve got a particular beef about the portrayal of indigenous cultures internationally, it’s a pretty blunt and one-dimensional perspective, which is indigenous cultures tends to be dot paintings, it tends to be a fairly straightforward representation, this is an opportunity for Australian Aboriginal artists and scientists to be featured in exhibitions and then shared around the network. The network’s also developing shows and touring as more of these nodes come online, we will more and more be developing exhibitions and ideas with our colleagues. We don’t know what subject we’re going to focus on next year, that will be determined through a process that will run with our cohort, however, we will always be looking for collaborators.

This is an artist impression of the gallery sitting on the corner of Swanston and Grattan Street. The final design will look nothing like this, but what this is … yeah, it’s an alternate fact, folks, this is fact one, but what it will be is a building in dialogue with its audience, so we will use multimedia, we will use technology, we will stream content, we’ll stream into the vet school doing an operation, we’ll stream into backstage at the MTC, the wig department, you know, where they seriously make wigs for costumes. So we’ll stream content but we’ll also start broadcasting through the site as well, so it will very much be a hybrid space. This graphic really just shows what we plan to do with our audiences, so the two people on the left with the graph is basically saying our audiences become part of the story, so we will emotion map, we’ll heartbeat monitor, we’ll heat-map our audiences so that they leave with their experience, we will encourage coffee and drinking through the whole site, it will probably be a no school uniform policy. The boxes in the ceiling are my little nod to museum collections. One of the things about working in a university is you’re absolutely liberated from a collection perspective, so the other day I went to the rare books room and I borrowed the first edition of Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species copy that the university have, and I held it in my bare hands and I leafed through it. I can’t tell you how liberating that is, having worked and run a large museum, to work with a collection that you can move, you can put light in, you can hold it, you can give it to someone, and I think the future of our sector is absolutely tied to the primacy of the collection, and if we keep it mothballed at some point we have to start to ask why and to what end, so in our world collections will be absolutely and utterly integral in very different ways.

Then finally, workshop rooms will be … that’s the rooms on the left, wet rooms, dry rooms, workshops, and then traditional exhibition spaces. Gallery is set to open in 2020 and we will be popping up all over the place between now and then, and feel free to ask us any questions or talk to us across the course of the day.

Ryan Jefferies: So we’ve got the result and we’re both A-.

Rose Hiscock: Really?

Ryan Jefferies: So we can actually save each other’s lives, we’re okay.

Rose Hiscock: Isn’t that great! Really? How spectacular, Ryan.

Ryan Jefferies: Brilliant.

Rose Hiscock: Right, I think that’s everything, folks. Any questions? No? Yeah?

Male Voice: Just a simple question, where’s your funding coming from, is it from the university?

Rose Hiscock: Yeah, it’s a mix, you know, as for all of us in this gig diversified funding is the key, so a mixture of university, private giving. Universities are very good at philanthropy and individual giving, so corporate support, private giving, government, university, but the building itself is a PPP, it’s a developer led initiative, which basically means the developer develops the site and we rent it back out over a 42 year period, after which the university will own the building. Yeah?

Female Voice: [Unable to hear].

Rose Hiscock: Yeah, yes, definitely. Do you want to talk about BLOOD?

Ryan Jefferies: So certainly for BLOOD we will have a featured display alongside our exhibition and programme at the Arts West Building on the university campus, and it will highlight blood relevant objects throughout our extensive collections.

Rose Hiscock: Yeah, in the middle?

Female Voice: Yeah, I’m from RMIT just around the corner.

Rose Hiscock: Yeah.

Female Voice: So I’m just interested to know, to get a sense of your relationship with other universities?

Rose Hiscock: So this little test that we’ve just done was developed by Monash, we’re certainly not one-eyed about universities, we’re up for any kind of collaboration, yeah, absolutely, and that sort of goes really broadly. The philosophy of the network is very open source, we crowd fund our ideas, we crowd fund our content, and so therefore, if anyone comes up with a good idea and wants to work with us, we’re interested. The only thing for us at the moment is we’re gearing up, so we’re small, so in terms of us able to resource ideas, you know, it takes a bit of time. Yeah?

Female Voice: How is the collaboration process with the London Science Museum, and what were the challenges of coordinating that?

Ryan Jefferies: One of the challenges of course is the time difference, so we’re forever having very early morning and late evening Google Hangouts, but it’s really a lot of opportunity there in terms of, as Rose said, we are really a small team, so suddenly we’ve doubled our team by working with London as well and a lot more opportunities than challenges.

Rose Hiscock: Yeah. I mean, if you just think about, it’s you replicated in other sites, and in fact Lizzie, who’s just there, can you wave, Lizzie? Lizzie was working in London, what, four months ago, on the MOUTHY season in London, so we’re starting to move people around the network as well, so it’s a great network to be part of if you want to work in Venice. In fact, Venice is looking for a director at the moment, if anyone’s up for it, it’s a good gig. Yeah?

Female Voice: I’m just wondering, are you collaborating with the Australian network for technology?

Rose Hiscock: Yeah, we’re just about to have a little chat to them, so yeah, yeah. The list of collaborations on BLOOD is actually pretty massive already, which is great, and it really is just this concept of anyone who’s in the space we’re interested in.

Ryan Jefferies: Cool, thank you. We’re now at lunch, so I’d like to ask you to thank all five of our speakers.

Rose Hiscock and Dr Ryan Jefferies talked about the making of BLOOD at Science Gallery at MuseumNext Australia in February 2017.

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