Proteus Turns Thought-Provoking at the GATHER Festival

25/03/14

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Contemporary art photographer Ron O’Donnell joined forces with Proteus to create an exciting and thought-provoking pop-up exhibition that was launched at GATHER Festival last month.

A highly talented and respected contemporary art photographer, Ron has exhibited his daring and vibrant work both nationally and internationally.

In collaboration with Proteus and the GATHER Festival, Ron wanted to explore how Proteus scientists express their cultural identity – the blending of the personal and the scientific.

Ron wished to draw out the role of the ‘scientific languages’ within the team, how they are used and what they communicate.

He created an arresting piece of work entitled ‘Let The World Keep Turning’, which was displayed over 18 hours across Edinburgh and captured the attention of approximately 140 hospital patients and medical staff, members of the wider public, as well as academics and students from the University of Edinburgh.

The four portraits of Proteus scientists (Lina, Tarek, Tushar and Sohan) were displayed at the Informatics Forum (The University of Edinburgh), the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and the Cameron Toll Shopping Centre.

Some of the words used to describe the portraits by those who viewed them include “beautiful”, “striking” and “captivating”, while the Proteus project was found to be “very interesting”, “important and worthwhile”, “amazing” and “incredible science”.

Some members of the public asked why the exhibition did not include Scottish scientists. These questions allowed interesting and important conversations to begin with the scientists involved about why they had chosen to work in Scotland, and what their personal and scientific cultures brought to Scottish science.

Two individuals said that the artwork had changed the way they viewed scientists and science from “nerdy and boring” to “cool and valuable”.

People commented upon how happy the scientists looked in the portraits, and wondered: “Could science be that much fun?”

The science engagement team who were present at the event replied emphatically that: “Yes! Science is fun and this exhibition seeks to capture that energy and sense of pleasure.”

The work clearly created an emotional impact on some individuals. They said it was the writing that they found so intriguing – they wanted to know what language it was, and what it meant.

One young man stopped and took photographs of Tarek’s portrait. When asked why he felt the need to take a photo, he replied that the words “stopped him still” as he was walking out of the supermarket.

He said the Arabic words (which he could read) are “words of the heart”, and he wanted to post it on his Facebook so that his friends and family could read it and feel good about him living in Scotland, so far away from home.

A lady with a trolley full of shopping said that: “If more people around the world felt the way that Tushar does, the world would be a marvelous place to live in.”

An elderly man said that he felt that he “could be in Athens” when he is on Carlton Hill (as Lina described), though he laughed that he could “believe it more if it wasn’t so rainy and windy!”

The portraits provoked the audience into conversations that were full of questions. These questions sought to understand the scientists as individuals, and how their science impacts the rest of society.

Sharing such knowledge and understanding is why science public engagement is so vital. The ‘Let The World Keep Turning’ exhibition allowed Proteus to engage with the public in a novel and dynamic way, providing some answers and provoking more questions.

Tarek Al Abbas – Electronic Engineer