Research centres and academies, whether inside universities or other institutions, are often places where divergent disciplines meet to tackle new questions from unique perspectives. This can produce crucial new interdisciplinary methodologies as well as new knowledge. My work with such centres ranges from strategic development activities to individual and collaborative research in a variety of fields from history of physics to early modern taxonomics. I have participated in fundraising and corporate planning for major institutions such as the Royal Society and the Natural History Museum, London, and I have governance experience of educational trusts, editorial boards and artist-run centres.

Development Manager, Royal Society

Manager, Development Office, the Royal Society, London (2001 to 2003)

 

Successful fundraising is always closely connected to exciting ideas — and is vital to enabling ideas to become form. Having been effective in convincing a variety of arts funders to support cultural projects in which I had been involved, I took the post of Manager in the Development Office of one of Europe’s oldest scientific academies, The Royal Society.  The main project was a capital campaign to redevelop the Society’s Nash-designed, Crown Estate home in Carlton House Terrace.

I came into the post after the architects had been appointed (Stefanie Fischer of Burrell Foley Fischer LLP) but before construction had begun. It was a small office, and I worked closely with Treasurer Professor Sir Eric Ash, and then briefly with his successor, Professor Sir David Wallace.

The most exciting part of the post saw me formulating proposals for a Research Centre for Interpreting History of Science at the heart of the redevelopment, a Centre which integrated the fabric of the building with the holdings and collections of the library and archives. In the Introduction and Background to the Centre business plan, I wrote:

The vision is to create a Study Centre for Interpreting History of Science which will broaden and deepen the understanding of the history of science in Europe from 1660 onwards based on skilled interpretation, actual display and digital dissemination of material unique to the Royal Society Archive and Library. This Archive-based interpretation activity would complement both university teaching establishments in the history of science and museum exhibitions, which base interpretation around an object collection. Here, the history of science would be viewed as an essential part of the project of science itself.

The Royal Society is not a Museum, nor is it a University Special Collections Library. And yet it has been making intellectual history year on year for all of its 340 years, and its Repositorie represents an unparalleled collection of archives, objects, manuscripts and institutional documentation which is central to any understanding of science as a culture and a human activity from the pre-Enlightenment to the present day. Founded before the notion of the public Museum was even fully formulated, it is worth mentioning that Elias Ashmole was a founder member of the Royal Society, and the Society’s Repositorie (now on the UK National Register) pre-dates the Ashmolean Museum’s own foundation by some twenty years.

From Wren, Hooke and Newton to Dirac, Hodgkin and Klug, the meeting of minds at the Royal Society has produced unique holdings increasingly in demand as interdisciplinary study has expanded and the discipline of the history of science has burgeoned. If interdisciplinary Humanities study rightly sees the history of science as cross-cutting most social, cultural, political and economic history, it also understands that the history of science’s institutions and academies consequently become an essential window into the intricacy of these interactions. This is why one of the seven strategic objectives of the Royal Society is to encourage research into the history of science.

… and this is what was proposed:

The Study Centre for Interpreting History of Science would be comprised of:

1. New mobile stacks, environmentally controllable storage, and purpose built work areas for the Archive and Library commensurate with its international significance and increasing active current use

2. A three year digitisation programme designed to mirror the first hundred years of the Archive holdings, contributing both to their long-term preservation and their electronic accessibility: this is as a focussed, institution-led digital profile of the history of the Royal Society’s formation and the Enlightenment

3. A permanently endowed post in Interpreting History of Science designed to integrate and highlight the work of the scholar-users of the Archive and Library, the Royal Society Archivist, and that of sister institutions in the UK and elsewhere: the post’s purpose is to create, out of the Royal Society’s archival wealth, timely multi-platform interpretive materials in the form of exhibitions, publications, study/seminar events and other resources for the history of science

and, to that end,

4. Small, versatile Archive study, education and seminar meeting rooms built to integrate with other seminar activities taking place in the larger Mercer Rooms in the new underground redevelopment as designed by architects Burrell Foley Fischer

5. New exhibition space and facilities — both localised as integral to the new underground redevelopment and mobile with tabletop exhibition cases in the Library Reading Room and Reception area as well as in upper floor meeting areas

6. A unique ‘Archive Bridge’ display structure designed by Calum Storrie to address interpretation of notoriously difficult text-based material in rolling, quick-response exhibitions

These assets and resources will enable the Archive to work in tandem with the expertise of the scholars and historians who regularly consult the Archive and Library and colleagues in other institutions in the UK and elsewhere.

 

I also liaised with colleagues at the Science Museum in order to help negotiate a home-coming of sorts for a number of key instruments and objects which the Royal Society had given in care to the institution best suited to look after them. One of the instruments I was most thrilled to see installed in a bespoke case at the Society when it reopened was Hauksbee’s Air Pump, which I had first seen many years before in the Enlightenment Galleries of the Science Museum.

For access reasons, sadly, the architects were not able to integrate the fantastic ‘Archive Bridge’ — designed by Calum Storrie — into the suite of exhibition facilities the building now boasts.  Calum and I worked closely to devise a multivalent display structure for notoriously difficult paper, book and text-based material to be shown in rolling, quick-response exhibitions. Part ‘open storage’, part plan-chest, part merry-go-round, I hope some day to see his elegantly-designed structure installed somewhere that deserves it.

The redevelopment of 6-9 Carlton House Terrace was completed in November 2003, and though not all of the wish-list above has come to pass in the last decade, much of it has. There is now a Centre for History of Science embedded in the Library and Archives at the Royal Society — and when working at the Natural History Museum, I collaborated with its Exhibitions and Events Coordinator, Dr Felicity Henderson, on Science Voices, a conference about oral history of science.

There were other pleasures, too, such as setting up a programme for serious scholarly work on the portraiture collection, which gave me an opportunity to work with Professor Ludmilla Jordanova, (author of Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraiture), for the first time. Alongside the then Librarian Karen Peters, and the Archivist Joanna Corden, we also devised a cataloguing programme that was subsequently fully funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, for materials as diverse as the Society’s Early Letters to the penicillin papers of Lord Florey.

And of course, lots of less interesting but quite important things as well — such as a strategy paper on management restructuring of the Development Office for more effective fundraising, and participation in the drafting of the Society’s corporate Business Plan. Over the two years that I was Development Manager, the Office raised more than half of the £7m redevelopment cost.

 

 

Further Links: Centre for History of Science; The Royal Society; Burrell Foley Fischer LLP; Hauksbee’s Air Pump; Calum Storrie; Professor Ludmilla Jordanova; Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraiture

[Images: Newton’s Telescope, Royal Society Collection; The Library at the RS around the time when I was working there — no, it is not me in the pic, but yes, my computer really was that big; Hauksbee’s Air Pump installed at the Royal Society, Burrell Foley Fischer LLP]

Dennis Rosen Memorial Trust

Founding Trustee, Dennis Rosen Memorial Trust for Art and Science (2000 to 2003)

 

My governance experience of this art-science educational trust extended to the creation of a lecture series portfolio for our partnership with the Royal Institution of Great Britain. This built on the annual lectures which we had already been running — roundtable and keynote presentations on art and science. The Rosen Trust hosted a variety of events at the RI including speakers such as Carl Djerassi, Howard Hodgkin, Richard Gregory, Sander Gilman, Steve Baker, Brenda Maddox, Claire Tomalin, Dan Fern and others. Subjects included music and mathematics, epidemiology and representation, human-animal relations, scientific biography, colour and more.

I was invited by Dennis Rosen’s children to be a founding Trustee of this small but dynamic Trust, alongside Professor Sir Eric Ash, Professor Lisa Jardine, and Professor Richard Kitney.  As the only artist in this illustrious group, it was my pleasure to art direct the Trust brand, and I worked with graphic designer Michael Martin of Oblique Design to create stationery and a logo for the Trust.  I based this on a series of roundelles that featured in the artist’s website I had created for the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford, entitled Rain of Atoms. Of course, there is rather more to good governance than good design, and my experience with artist-run centres and on editorial boards in Canada prior to moving to the UK stood me in good stead.

From the Trust’s website:

Dennis Rosen was a scientist who took the trouble to be a well-rounded man. A biophysicist who specialised during the latter stages of his career in pattern recognition, he was as curious about the application of this technique in science and medicine as in fine art and painting. His love of theatre, music and history were deep-rooted parts of his life that supplemented his scientific activities.

I had first heard of Dennis Rosen when I bought the book he co-authored with his wife, Sylvia, entitled London Science: Museums, Libraries and Places of Scientific, Technological and Medical Interest (1994).  Of course, I had already visited a number of the repositories they listed, but it was an important guide for me when I first moved to the UK shortly after it was published.  Though slightly out of date now — mainly for all the right reasons that many of the collections it describes are now more publicly acccessible — it is still a very insightful and helpful volume.

 

Further Links:  The Dennis Rosen Memorial Trust

Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford

Research Residency, Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (1996 to 1998)

 

The Laboratory at the Ruskin School has been at the forefront of articulating the research activities of artists and making the case for its value. The Lab involved me in a number of innovative projects in the late 1990s, and I produced an artists’ website entitled ‘Rain of Atoms’ about Democritus’s extraordinary — and eerily accurate — intuitions about the atomic structure of matter.

I believe the Lab was among the first institutions to commission artists’ websites, and certainly was the first art academy to do so.  Paul Bonaventura, who runs the Lab, paired me up with Peter Ride at Artec, and we spent several months to make what would now, a decade and more later, take a day or two to produce.  Sadly, it has gone the way of much early digital artwork, upgraded out of all existence.  This ephemerality is also time-honoured in time-based art, so I’m fairly sanguine about it. Later on, I used some of the same images for the logo of the Dennis Rosen Trust, and you can get a sense of Rain of Atoms from it.

It was quite abstract — literally a black screen with a little window through which hundreds of roundelles (spheroid images taken from across the history of science) fell like atomic rain; cosmic rays suddenly made visible as if the viewer were looking through an electron microscope magically constructed from the CDU’s cathode ray.  Quaint as it may sound, the website won Lycos’s ‘website of the week’ award in 1997 — that gives you an idea of how much faster things are moving now.

Other sites the the Lab commissioned were David Bickerstaff’s Ubiquity, and an early version of Jake Tilson’s The Cooker.

During this period, Antonia Payne (now at University of Wolverhampton) worked closely with Paul to forge links between artists, art schools, and humanities departments of universities. Antonia convened the pivotal conference Research and the Artist at the Ruskin in 1999, editing the volume of the same name. She devised a project called Inserts, commissioning artists to make bookworks for scholarly journals, and invited me to make a work. At the time, I was working on Atomism & Animism, a major collection interpretation project for the Science Museum, London.

As a long-standing member of the British Society for the History of Science, I thought it would be fun to contribute, as an artist, to the Society’s journal. The result, which you see above, was a translucent work about seeing celestial bodies (British Journal for the History of Science, Winter 1998, Vol 31, No 4).  This is from the introduction:

A Metaphysical Subject” is a double-sided, translucent collage juxtaposing diagrams by Wittgenstein and by Sacrobosco, a 13th century natural philosopher. The work was created for this unique moment between two total eclipses of the sun — in February of 1998, visible from the Caribbean, and in August of 1999, visible from Cornwall, England. Eclipses have been viewed — often literally — as moments to mark civilisation: “A Metaphysical Subject” reflects on the age old relationship between human self-consciousness and the knowledge of the heavens.

In 1996, the Ruskin School’s Joseph Beuys Lectures addressed the relationship between art and science, and I opened the proceedings with a presentation entitled ‘Paradigm and Diagram: How Artists Think Science.’

These days in the world of contemporary art a great deal of money is being poured into what is called ‘new technology.’ The adjective “wired” is indiscriminantly applied as a name to both exhibitions and magazines. We struggle to remember that tools are only a part of method, and not synonymous with it. There seems to be about works of art constructed in and through smooth ‘new technology’ a strange frisson of verity, as if the hardware made the work into hard fact, and as if artists working with new electronic technology were somehow more scientifically-minded than artists making work in what is now considered more traditional media. New technology must not make the error of donning the mantle of objectivity that science at its best has only recently managed to slough off. Since all true objectivity is both relative and ideal, can we not say that it is also entirely subjective, and hence embrace the powerful structure of subjectivity as a ripe field of information and understanding? I wish to differentiate between science and technology not to hierarchize them as we have mistakenly done with arts and crafts, and high art and popular culture, but rather to make the point that there is a difference between knowledge or understanding that is of things themselves, and knowledge of means to ends.

Since that time — over 15 years ago now — an entire field of self-reflexive artists’ practice interrogating new technologies has grown up.  But not everyone is listening, as there is still uneven understanding in several fields concerning the relationship between science and technology, and between intellectual innovations and technological ones.  The 1996 Beuys lectures were recorded by Audio Arts for audio cassette distribution, possibly among the last of those publications, as DAT and the mini-disc took over as ‘means to ends.’  They too are now historical.

 

Further Links: Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art; British Society for the History of Science; Audio Arts; Joseph Beuys Lectures; Research and the Artist Conference

[Image References: Newton, Prism Experiment Diagram (1665/1704) shown in my lecture Paradigm and Diagram; Martha Fleming, A Metaphysical Subject (British Journal for the History of Science, Winter 1998, Vol 31, No 4)]