Smallpox, Untitled Future Mutation, and HIV
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.


Juxtaposing the veritable, scientific phenomenon of deadly devastation resulting from virulent microbiologic agents over and against their visceral, ethereal, delicately-rendered, glass-blown, light-boxed morphologic representations is the inherent, intended dichotomy of Luke Jerram's Viral Sculptures exhibition.

Over a 5-years period, in consultation with leading virologist Dr. Andrew Davidson of the University of Bristol (whose single-particle electron cryo-microscopic imaging techniques elucidated for the artist viral structures at atomic-level resolution) and in collaboration with glassmiths Kim George, Brian Jones, and Norman Veitch (all traditionally-trained to create distilleries used in chemistry departments), the British installation artist Jerram first created glass genomes and then developed innovative techniques to properly portray viral particles (virions), protein coats, and fat envelopes.


Swine Flu (H1N1) Sphere
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.


Says he, "It's great to be exploring the edges of scientific understanding and visualisation of a virus. Scientists aren't able to answer many of the questions I ask them, such as how [is] the RNA exactly fitted within the Capsid? At the moment, camera technology can't answer these questions either. I'm also pushing the boundaries of glassblowing. Some of my designs simply can't be created in glass. Some are simply too fragile and gravity would cause them to collapse under their own weight. So there's a very careful balancing act that needs to take place, between exploring current scientific knowledge and the limitations of glassblowing techniques."... "What’s interesting is how the imagery of a virus, say HIV, has changed and developed as scientists’ understanding of the virus has improved, along with ways of visualising/imaging a virus has improved with finer and finer detail [...]"


Swine Flu (H1N1) Ovoid
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.


[...] "Also, with viruses you can very quickly come to the edge of scientific understanding. We can photograph a virus with an electron microscope, but it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s going on inside it because the technology is at the very edge of its capability and the resolution isn’t quite good enough. So you end up having to jump from what you can see to what you can infer from chemical modelling. There’s sometimes a gap and a certain amount of guess-work, and that edginess is quite interesting for me. "

"With 3D sculptures, there’s also a tangibility you can’t get from flat pictures. There are diagrams of a virus and then there are photographs of a virus from electron microscopes. The purpose of a diagram is to communicate details in a very clear and concise way, whereas the scientific photos of viruses do something different. And a 3D representation makes you look at it in another, different, way. "


Swine Flu (H1N1) Detail
©Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.

"Because the H1N1 virus is quite amorphous - without one fixed shape - I made a number of slightly different shapes so you can get an idea of how it exists in slightly different forms." [...] "As the sculptures get larger, the surface proteins begin to take their own shape."

Playing just at the precipice of what is known and what can be shown, evoking and provoking "edgy" discourse about this disconnect while giving space and place for contemplation of viewers' perceptions of disease and their tactile experiences with pathology- these all contribute to an overtone of creative tension in Jerram's transparent, sculptured, not-to-scale forms. Pushing and propelling 'how science is seen' achieves this colour-blind artist's expressed desire, sans additive and subtractive processes: exploration of, reflect upon, and, indeed, challenge to, the notions and practices of pseudo-colouring enhancements and artificial digital manipulation in biomedical imaging.


Smallpox
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.

Viruses –those "organisms at the edge of life" (without cellular structure, yet possessing genes, evolving by natural selection, replicating through self-assembly within host cells) – and virology "have implications for the study of the origin of life, as it lends further credence to the hypothesis that life could have started as self-assembling organic molecules." (Wiki) [See: Lupi O, Dadalti P, Cruz E, Goodheart C (2007). "Did the first virus self-assemble from self-replicating prion proteins and RNA?" Med. Hypotheses 69 (4): 724–30. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2007.03.031. PMID 17512677] and [See: Koonin EV, Senkevich TG, Dolja VV (2006). "The ancient virus world and evolution of cells." Biology Direct 1:29 doi:10.1186/1745-6150-1-29 http://www.biology-direct.com/content/1/1/29].


SARS CoronaVirus (SARS-CoV)
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.

Moreover, current trends in nanotechnology promise to make much more versatile use of viruses. From the viewpoint of a materials science, viruses can be regarded as organic nanoparticles. Their surface carries specific tools designed to cross the barriers of their host cells. The size and shape of viruses, and the number and nature of the functional groups on their surface, [are] precisely defined. As such, viruses are commonly used in materials science as scaffolds for covalently linked surface modifications. A particular quality of viruses is that they can be tailored by directed evolution. The powerful techniques developed by life sciences are becoming the basis of engineering approaches towards nanomaterials, opening a wide range of applications far beyond biology and medicine. (Wiki) [See: Fischlechner M, Donath E (2007). "Viruses as Building Blocks for Materials and Devices". Angewandte Chemie International Edition46 (18): 3184–93. doi:10.1002/anie.200603445. PMID 17348058. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/114177304/abstract?CRETR...].

Because of their size, shape, and well-defined chemical structures, viruses have been used as templates for organizing materials on the nanoscale. Recent examples include work at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, using Cowpea Mosaic Virus (CPMV) particles to amplify signals in DNA microarray based sensors. In this application, the virus particles separate the fluorescent dyes used for signaling in order to prevent the formation of non-fluorescent dimers that act as quenchers.(Wiki) [See: Soto CM, Blum AS, Vora GJ, et al. (April 2006). "Fluorescent signal amplification of carbocyanine dyes using engineered viral nanoparticles". J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128 (15): 5184–9 doi:10.1021/ja058574x. PMID 16608355]. [See also: Sick Beans Lead to Nanotech: "Plant viruses as chemically "programmable" building blocks for nanobiotechnology" Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2002, 41 (3), 459 - 462. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/26737/home/press
/200203...
]. Another example is the use of CPMV as a nanoscale breadboard for molecular electronics. (Wiki) [See: Blum AS, Soto CM, Wilson CD, et al. (2005). "An Engineered Virus as a Scaffold for Three-Dimensional Self-Assembly on the Nanoscale". Small, 7, 702].


Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) Bacterium Strain on Lightbox
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.

Positioned on the frontlines of known scientific laws, forcing forward the frontiers of discovery and innovation, Jerram is to flameworks what virology is to nanobiotechnology with his gravity-defying glassworks, pretty pathogens with purpose, and the beauty of bacteria revealed.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) with Reflection
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.

An earlier HIV rendition was auctioned for the HIV/Aids Charity AVERT, raising money for patients in South Africa. Advances in scientific imaging since that time have allowed Jerram to produce ever-more-detailed artworks interpreting the same insidious virus. Other HIV editions can be viewed at the Wellcome Trust Collection and the Bristol City Museum. Jerram's Swine Flu sculpture was recently acquired by the Wellcome Trust Collection, now on display in its Medicine Now gallery in Central London and will be on loan to the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo for 'Medicine and Art', an exhibition including artworks from Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn and Leonardo da Vinci next month. Wellcome Collection's public venue will display the microbial work from Friday 25 September until 18 October 2009. The Tokyo exhibition, a collaboration between Wellcome Collection and the Mori Art Museum, will include an extensive number of objects from Wellcome Collection, and will run from 28 November 2009 to 28 February 2010.


Untitled Future Mutation
© Luke Jerram. Courtesy, The Smithfield Gallery, London. All Rights Reserved.

To coincide with the display of Swine Flu at the Wellcome Collection, Jerram's solo show debuted on 22nd September 2009 at the Smithfield Gallery in east London, presented along with limited edition photographic images, prints, and video. That exhibit runs through next Friday, the 9th of October. [All works are of investment-grade quality. Individual and institutional purchases are arranged by the Gallery].

http://www.thesmithfieldgallery.com/events/

http://www.lukejerram.com/projects/glass_microbiology

(Especial appreciation goes out to Caroline for permissions clearance and images provision).

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