Who would have thought that fish embryos could be so hypnotic? Under the microscope, they tumble and turn like marbles, executing the occasional piscine wriggle at camera. These dainty roe are zebrafish, whose unusual transparency is a boon for medical research. Scientists intensely breed the fish and tweak their genes in pursuit of knowledge about disease. Artist Kathleen Rogers wants us to think about this manipulation of life, and certainly generates a meditative atmosphere with the repetitive but compelling imagery and murmor of a soundtrack.
This is one of seven works of sci-art spread throughout the Royal Institution. The title, 'Crossing over' alludes to a union between the 'two cultures' of art and science, and you'll see plenty of thought-provoking examples of genetics and biotech rendered tangible through the artist's craft. (Plus, anyone who's done biology to A Level will be able to alienate their friends by pointing out the genetic pun in the exhibition's name.)
Visitors are greeted by a macabre, obsidian bust, pieced together from medical scans that artist Alex Bunn spent years acquiring. In the library upstairs, a series of 'carnivorous robots' purport to catch and torture flies. Fans of Iain Banks take note. Elsewhere, you'll see a pair of topiary lambs (strange but fun), fake body parts eroded in a fountain, and photographic portraits taken under the light of glowing bacteria.Scintillating stuff, if a little disjointed as a collection.
The newly reopened Royal Institution is one impressive venue. If Bill and Ted showed up in a bid to pressgang Mikey-boy Faraday into their troupe of historical figures, they'd probably implode under a torrent of 'woooahs' and 'excellents'. Even if you couldn't give a tinker's cuss about the artwork, it's worth going along to inspect the impressive refurbishment masterminded by Terry Farrell. The restaurant looks damn fine, too. Just don't order the caviar after viewing the zebrafish.
Crossing Over opens today at the Royal Institution, 21 Albermarle Street, and runs until 21 November. Entrance is free, and the work can be seen any weekday 9-5. The exhibition is supported by the Wellcome Trust and the Arts Council England.