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Insight Radical: Where art meets science

   Beautiful Decay by Natalie Recalcitrant
The fight against aging is not new; for centuries people have been trying to stem the ravages of time, whether for themselves, the environment or, of course, for the preservation of art. Earlier this year six artists including Natalie O’Connor, Resident Artist for Winsor & Newton in Australia, took up residency in the Free Radical Centre’s laboratories in Melbourne, Australia, to immerse themselves in the topic of free radicals. ‘Insight Radical,’ is a collaboration bringing art and science together, using art as a medium to express this complex concept and generate awareness of the impact that free radicals have on our lives and art materials.
Aging occurs because cells accumulate free radical damage over time. For most biological structures, including humans, free radical damage is closely associated with oxidative damage. This has a parallel with oil painting, which cures through a process of oxidation. Paradoxically, free radicals are also essential for our survival (e.g. they play a key part in blood chemistry where white blood cells kill bacteria) and if controlled can contribute to the creation of many innovative materials (e.g. polymerisation to create plastics and combustion).
A collaboration between Winsor & Newton, the Australian Government and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology, ‘Insight Radical’ encourages dialogue around both the positive and negative impacts of free radicals. The deterioration of plastics, the fading of paint and, in fact, many human age related illnesses are all caused by free radical damage. Working with scientists, the artists’ challenge was to develop artworks incorporating ideas about ‘free radicals’.

For artist Ruth Waller it was the free radicals patterns and chain reactions that she found fascinating - the order of such patterns and then the disorder when these finely balanced reactions broke down.


 The Sailor. Steve Lopes' painting following his lab 

Steve Lopes painted a portrait of the late sailor Andrew Macauley. Throughout his ill-fated attempt to row from Australia to New Zealand in a kayak, McAuley took regular photographs of himself. These were found in his upturned kayak. Lopes was struck by the gradual ageing or weathering of McAuley’s face evident in the photos. This reminded him of discussions on ageing and free radicals. As Steve learnt during his residency, the physical attributes of ageing, such as wrinkled or saggy skin, are caused by free radicals attacking molecules such as collagen in skin layers. 

Artist Anna Madeleine already uses a lot of science based imagery in her work (maps, diagrams, scientific patterns) and during her residency studied the equipment and data and photographed the patterns they created. ‘I want to express free radicals as a concept in alternative or playful ways. I’m considering the ideas of visualising the invisible, and the scale of tiny molecules in comparison to some of the industries free radicals are most relevant in.’
   Peter Sharp records the sounds of the laboratory
In contrast, Peter Sharp was inspired by the clear language which scientists use and the passion and human element which scientists bring to a sterile lab. ‘Scientists constantly tried to make things ‘clear and straightforward!’ Drawn to the way scientists communicate and the sounds which were made in the lab during testing, Peter recorded these. At the end of his stay Peter concluded, ‘The concept of free radicals is difficult to translate into a visual experience. I would like to make a work that incorporates drawing, painting and sound in way that is simple to understand.’
Documented throughout with a live blog and an ‘Artist Profile’ magazine feature, an exhibition is the final instalment of the project. Paintings, drawings and installations will bring together each artist’s interpretation of their experience. The exhibition, at the Griffin Gallery, London W11, in August 2013, takes the audience on the artists’ journeys of exploration and discovery.
 Anna Madeleine was inspired by scientific diagrams  
   A study of colour and layers by Natalie O’Connor