Doom, gloom and preparing for the end: Creating IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY Research Coordinator Joanna Crispell gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the exhibition. 

                   “This is the way the world ends

                    Not with a bang, but a whimper.”

                                         ― T.S. Eliot

As humans, we are obsessed with how it’s all going to end — we love watching the newest zombie-rom-com, or climate-change-inspired film. But what about the science and statistics behind these apocalyptic scenarios? For this exhibition, we teamed up with research centres to get their expert advice on how the world might end, based upon their field of work. We also delve into whimsical products that may leave you wanting to spend your hard-earned cash on creating your own bug-out-bag.

How does a Science Gallery Dublin exhibition comes together?

Six months before IN CASE OF EMERGENCY opened to the public, I was working as a virologist in a lab. It felt like the majority of my time was spent moving extremely small volumes of liquid in and out of tubes (always remembering that this 'liquid' was actually a real-life virus). Of course there was more involved, but that's for another time...

Something I had never experienced was putting together an art exhibition (unless you count the creation of a virus colouring-book as art). Things like open calls and mood boards (not to mention new Irish slang like 'gas') were all new to me when I moved to Dublin from Scotland to become the Research Coordinator at Science Gallery Dublin.

I learned that we run an open call a few months in advance of the exhibition, where anyone can submit an application. At Science Gallery Dublin, our three core aims for our visitors are to connect, participate, and surprise, so submissions are prompted to achieve this. Reading through all of the applications is the really fun bit. You see how people can interpret the theme in different ways, and learn about all different kinds of artists.

Then there was the matter of designing the look and feel of the exhibition: how could the theme be reflected in the space? We also needed to think carefully about our signage, and how to convey the concept of the piece with minimal text. This is where our mediators are really important. They are there to start deeper conversations with visitors about the pieces. As you can see, it really took a lot of different skills to conceive IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.

One of the crucial components of IN CASE OF EMERGENCY was the involvement of the research centres: AMBER,  iCRAG, CONNECT, CÚRAM, and the Trinity Biomedical Science Institute (TBSI). We brainstormed with the researchers to find out how the world could possibly end based on their field of expertise. Tsunamis, plagues, carbon nanotubes that could shred our DNA — all of this information was used to create the Situation Room (pictured below) where visitors are invited to become part of the Catastrophe Citizens' Assembly. 

As part of the show we also commissioned four brand-new pieces, pairing artists with researchers to create an original artwork; a first for us at Science Gallery Dublin. We have Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to thank for the funding to be able to do this. It was very exciting to watch experts in their own rights combining to create something new.

Future Miners, pictured above, is one such piece by artist Jenny Lee. She was paired up with iCRAG, a group of geosciences research experts. The artwork looks at the theme of biomining, and how we may need to use bacteria in the future to extract precious metals such as gold from ore. Biomining is an environmentally friendly technique, particularly so when viewed beside typical mining, which releases many pollutants.

GRB-Locator-Array is a mobile sculpture that points in the direction of the most recent gamma ray burst recorded by satellites Fermi and Swift. Artist Fiona McDonald worked closely with researchers from CONNECT to use networking technology to send real-time data on the location of gamma ray bursts directly to the first floor of Science Gallery Dublin. AMBER was also crucial in providing an electron beam evaporator to create the piece.

M-Ark is based on the concept of panspermia — the theory that life on the earth originated from microorganisms. Artist Byron Rich spent years dreaming about the creation of this piece; he was very excited to be awarded the grant to make it real. Byron got advice from CÚRAM on how best to architect the golden egg meant to hold the human microbiome that could potentially crash back to earth to restart life after a de-extinction event.

The artists behind Xenophon: Almanac of Tomorrow, Siobhan McGibbon and Maeve O’Lynn, also spent time in the lab with researchers from CÚRAM. The interactive book they created is part of their ongoing Xenophon project, which explores the narrative of a post-human world, and an imagined way that scientific research could lead to bio-enhancement.

We might be okay... if we change our ways

In preparing for the exhibition, I was constantly left thinking “Wow, there are so many ways that the world could end.” But it’s not necessarily all dark. Over and over during the course of my research, I saw how humans can overcome these catastrophes. Singapore have come up with an ingenious advertising campaign to encourage everyone to get busy and make babies. Japan constructing tsunami stones, to tell future generations they would be safe from rising water if they didn’t build below a certain elevation.

It’s important to remember that there is something we can do about the proposed end of the world, and that we aren’t just pawns in a grand game of chess. We don’t want people to leave the exhibition thinking “What’s the point in even trying, then?”.

You can explore IN CASE OF EMERGENCY for yourself until 11th February. Be prepared to find out out more about our possible impending doom, but you'll also find some ingenious ways we can prepare for it.

We would like to thank the following Science Foundation Ireland-supported research centres for their support of a number of commissioned artists involved in IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.

AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) is a Science Foundation Ireland funded centre that provides a partnership between leading researchers in materials science and industry. AMBER researchers work with materials that will transform everyday products of the future, from mobile phones to knee implants, batteries and beer bottles. AMBER is jointly hosted in Trinity College Dublin by CRANN and the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, in collaboration with University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

iCRAG, the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, is Ireland’s national geoscience research centre, supported by Science Foundation Ireland, the European Regional Development Fund and industry partners.
Their mission is to transform geoscience research and education in Ireland, by driving discovery, delivering economic and societal benefits, and advancing public understanding of their science. iCRAG’s multidisciplinary research transcends industry and academic boundaries to address key research challenges in the fields of energy security, raw materials supply, groundwater protection, and safeguarding the geomarine environment. Comprising 150 researchers and seven research institutions across Ireland, and collaborating with more than 60 industry partners, their vision is to help unlock Ireland’s natural resources through developing improved technical knowledge and innovative techniques, which are embedded within the industry.

CONNECT is the world-leading Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications. CONNECT is funded under the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres Programme and is co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund. It engages with over 35 companies including large multinationals, SMEs and start-ups. CONNECT brings together world-class expertise from ten Irish academic institutes to create a one-stop-shop for telecommunications research, development and innovation.

CÚRAM is a national research centre advancing research and development in the medical device sector. Supported by Science Foundation Ireland, CÚRAM enhances Ireland's standing as a major hub for the global medical devices industry. Based at NUI Galway, CÚRAM works with industry and clinical partners to radically improve health outcomes for chronically ill patients by enhancing and developing both traditional and new combinational medical devices from molecular design stage to implant manufacturing. 

The Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute is an environment where innovative and interdisciplinary approaches are leading to scientific discoveries of biomedical importance, ultimately giving rise to better patient care.

Written by Science Gallery Dublin research coordinator Joanna Crispell. In her previous life, Joanna was a virologist, working in the lab studying horse flu. During her PhD, she got involved in public engagement, and became convinced that all researchers should be communicating their science in some shape or form. At Science Gallery Dublin, she is the go-between for researchers and artists, trying her best to speak both their languages. 



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