Supported by SFI and UCD, STEP Through the Looking Glass will give the public ‘a unique glimpse’ into the lives of the people behind the research.

A unique Irish exhibition aims to bring scientists and artists together through storytelling.

STEP Through the Looking Glass: Stories Told about Experimental Processes will use personal and scientific objects belonging to different people to spark conversations.

It is the result of work done by artist and tapestry weaver Lorna Donlon, scientists from University College Dublin (UCD) and patient advocates working with them.

The exhibition launch will take place at Grennan Mill Craft School in Kilkenny tomorrow (August 6) as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival. It can be seen in other places after that.

Donlon was a student at the craft school in 1984 and later taught knitting there for 12 years.

During the pandemic, she undertook an artist residency at the UCD Conway Institute, having recently graduated from university with a degree in cellular and molecular biology.

In the initial phase of Donlon’s residency, she mounted an installation at the entrance to the UCD Conway Institute called Cabinets of Everyday Curiosities.

It featured ordinary, everyday objects that spoke to the lives of the people in Donlon’s life, placed without labels or explanations. These objects acted as storytelling tools.

The STEP exhibition stems from this project. Donlon invited scientists at the biomedical research institute to look at the cabinets and then install their own everyday object in exchange for the one on display – until all the objects belonged to the researchers and represented their daily lives.

“It has been fascinating to work with Lorna on this project,” said Prof Helen Roche, director of the UCD Conway Institute and one of the 12 scientists involved in the project.

“Scientists and artists are inherently curious by nature, but in very different ways. I began to look at the objects around my office and lab in a whole new light.”

The public at the exhibition will be able to view large-format photographs of the 12 scientists and two patient advocates who participated. They will also be able to listen to conversations between Donlon, scientists and patient advocates involved in the Patient Voice in Cancer Research initiative.

“The exhibition will give the public a unique insight into the lives of the people behind the research, as well as the research itself,” said Dr Ruth Freeman, director of science for society at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

“Projects like this help us provide important platforms and spaces for researchers and artists to come together, learn from each other and create new knowledge that can benefit society as a whole.”

The exhibition was funded by SFI through its Discover program and by the UCD Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund.

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