Abigail Addison27 April 2017

Silent Signal: Exploring Visionary Science through Experimental Animation

Films

Our bodies perform a soundless internal dialogue between cells using the universal cypher of genetics. These signals are fundamental to how our bodies operate and how they adapt to fight disease.

Silent Signal comprises:

Devised and produced by Animate Projects in collaboration with scientist Bentley Crudgington, and supported by a Wellcome Trust Large Arts Award and the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Interview with founder Abigail Addision conducted by Alexis Gambis, Executive Director of Imagine Science Films

What is the Silent Signal Project?

Silent Signal is a collection of animated artworks that together explore the science of genetics, cell biology, immunology and epidemiology, and the signals that enable our bodies to operate and to adapt to fight disease.

Silent Signal takes the viewer on a journey: starting at the microcosm of the infection fighting internal landscapes of our cells, through the personal experiences and opinions of individuals and scientists, to the application of the research in the wider world of infectious disease modelling and genome code sequencing.

AfterGlow by boredomresearch, in collaboration with Dr Paddy Brock (University of Glasgow)

The works raise questions about what our genetic code is, how our immune system functions, how disease is spread, and what the future applications and impact of the research into these areas might be for us all.

Each work is the result of a close collaboration between an artist and a scientist, exploring the similarities and differences in the way they work and the technologies they each use. Each work involved dialogue between the artist and scientist throughout the process, to ensure that the research was presented in a way that the scientist was comfortable with, but without compromising the creative ambitions of the artist.

These works are artistic, aesthetic, abstracting – rather than visualising, illustrating or interpreting the science, they seek to bring a different perspective, to draw the viewer in and to leave the viewer with questions for further contemplation.

Sleepless by Ellie Land, in collaboration with Professor Peter Oliver (University of Oxford)

Through the process of making Silent Signal it has been a joy to be involved in conversations between artists and scientists, particularly in group meet ups where the collaborators have been able to feedback, to challenge, and to offer advice to one another.

We were very fortunate that the scientists that all chose to apply to be part of this project all fully embraced it and have been very generous with their time, willing to talk extensively about their work, and keen to be involved in the creative aspects – assisting with scripts, taking part in performances and even in one case making the music - Professor Oliver created the soundtrack to Sleepless.

At silentsignal.org there is background material on each project and the science it engages with, and also a resource that examines the ethical and societal context of the science.

Battle of Blister by Genetic Moo, in collaboration with Dr Neil Dufton (Imperial College London)

How did this project come to being?

In 2012 my colleague Gary and I were talking to the Arts Advisers at the Wellcome Trust (who are a large medical research charity in the UK that funds art inspired by biomedical science as part of its remit) about ideas for an elaborate project where animation techniques could be employed to explore scientific research in an artistic fashion and engage non-scientific audiences, rather than as a straight visualisation that might otherwise be used by the scientific community in order to convey ideas. At this point we had already had a few successful art & science projects: Magnetic Movie with Semiconductor, Exhaustion with Richard Fenwick, and Navigations with Iain Gardner & Alec Finlay.

Loop by Samantha Moore, in collaboration with Dr Serge Mostowy (Imperial College London)

We approached scientist Bentley Crudgington and with some support from the Wellcome Trust undertook a research period where we sought out our artists and scientists, facilitated the relationships between them through workshop and roundtable sessions, and worked with them on developing their project proposals.

If we could bottle and sell [Animate’s] matchmaking methods, we’d be on to a winner.” Lisa Jamieson, former Head of Engaging Science, Wellcome Trust, on Silent Signal in The Guardian, November 2014

The Signal and the Noise by Charlie Tweed, in collaboration with Dr Darren Logan (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)

We applied to the Wellcome Trust for a Large Arts Award and were honoured to be one of two projects selected through the annual scheme in 2014. Then after 15 months of production, fed by continuous dialogue between the collaborators, and also with the whole group at roundtable sessions, we launched the resulting animated artworks and educational resource with an exhibition at QUAD in Derby in February 2016.

Over a year-long tour the artworks were shared with audiences through 6 exhibitions in the UK, plus 36 additional events, screenings, talks and workshops in the UK, and also Germany, Austria and the US through the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York.

Immunecraft by Eric Schockmel, in collaboration with Dr Megan MacLeod (University of Glasgow)

Links

Magnetic Movie

Exhaustion

Navigations

Guardian quote

Educational resource

About Author

Animate was founded by Abigail Addison and Gary Thomas in 2007 and since then has worked with more than 100 animators, filmmakers and artists to produce extraordinary and award-winning work. Animate nurtures and harnesses creative talent in order to create thought provoking and inspiring projects.

Animate works in collaboration with a range of UK-wide partners, in a variety of contexts – engaging audiences in the gallery, cinema, museum, public spaces, online and through broadcast. Its partners include the Wellcome Trust, The Photographers’ Gallery, QUAD Derby, Channel 4, Vivid Projects Birmingham, Art on the Underground, Phoenix Leicester, BFI Southbank, Flatpack Festival Birmingham, London Sinfonietta, FACT Liverpool, and the National Trust.

Animate’s awards include: Nature’s ‘Scientific Merit Award’ at Imagine Science Film Festival 2009 for Magnetic Movie by Semiconductor; Grand Prize at Oberhausen International Short Film Festival 2010 for A Letter to Uncle Boonmee by Apichatpong Weerasethakul; Best Experimental Film, Chicago Underground Film Festival 2011 for Slow Action by Ben Rivers; Lumen Prize 2016 Moving Image Award for AfterGlow by boredomresearch; and Visual Science Award at Imagine Science Film Festival Abu Dhabi 2017 for Loop by Samantha Moore.

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