Photo51 Celebrates A Landmark In Genetics By Mixing Science And Art

It’s been 60 years since the structure of DNA was first discovered, thus heralding a new era in science, the propagation of genetics and the many medical advances that followed. Though Watson and Crick are usually credited with its discovery, Wilkins, Gosling and Franklin at King’s College London also played an important role in uncovering DNA’s structure.

This exhibition both looks back across history, to the future and provides an artistic twist to genetics as well. Part of the historical context is provided by Christine Donnier-Valentin’s modern day photographs of the old labs in the basement of King’s College London. The labs themselves and the equipment within is well preserved despite their antiquity.

Also present are copies of the original x-ray crystallography images that helped scientists see at a greater magnification level and identify that DNA has a double helix structure. Both these images and of the lab may feel dated by modern scientific standards, but their historical significance is a window into one of science’s most important discoveries.

Shelley James has taken the structure of DNA as an inspiration to work with glass blowers to produce homages, signifying the delicacy of imaging techniques and the transparency that this discovery brought to science.

The star of this show is Marcus Lyon and his use of scientific imagery to create artworks – whether it be a contoured map made up of zebrafish brain scans or bright circular patterns made from the process used for identifying genetic profiles.

Pictures of jars that we see as indecipherably labelled and photographs of lab benches stacked with equipment and substance, can be seen as real world versions of Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinet. One room even has a mock lab bench where a slightly de-tuned radio plays chart music as if a researcher has only just stepped away.

This is an inventive mix of science and art, in yet another exhibition space within Somerset House, and it’s a fitting tribute to a truly revolutionary scientific discovery.

Photo51: from DNA to the brain is presented by King’s Cultural Institute and is in the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, Strand, WC2R 2LS until 27 July. Admission is free.

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