Science Writes to Life | Pegasus Theatre, Fri 11 May 2012
This event was one I had high hopes for. The premise was that the Oxford Brookes Faculty of Health and Life Sciences had teamed up with the Poetry Centre as part of Oxford Brookes' Amazing Arts series. The combination of quantitative studies and qualitative literature could potentially yield some really good work. The programme had a lot of doctors on the line-up. Would this be academic or accessible, I wondered.
The event was hosted by Professor Stephen Matthews and a large number of the collaborations were with Fiona Sampson. One of the early hits was her Songs for bees, where she explained that ‘a bee is not just a bee’. It was good poetry, but at times the connections to science were a bit tenuous. The subjects ranged from colony collapse disorder to God. In fact, this was probably the most appropriate forum for it – between art and science, with a lot of leniency on both sides.
One thing that was brought home by the show was that the scientists were not practiced performers. These rough edges enhanced the experience, however. Bucking the trend was Doctor Andrew Lack, reading an essay from Dan Mitchell, one of his students. It was both well written and well read. Essentially it was a story about two guys building a tree house, but it became a lot more. The piece was structured very methodically but had a lot of emotional depth to it along with a strong vein of humour. This was clearly someone who had learned a lot from the long summer experience.
The first half drew to a close with an award ceremony. There was not a lot of explanation for this. Apparently Oxford Brookes had held a science bazaar, and a number of school children had written poems. Some of it was really good – possibly better than some of the adults' work! This was all the more impressive because some of them were really very young.
In the interval we were invited to look around the building at an exhibition of Dr Louise Hughes’ microscope photography. This was just one more example of the ways in which scientific instruments could be used to create art.
In the second half, Prof. David Evans gave a presentation about nucleus membranes. At this stage the show started to get a bit more like a lecture. I could imagine the handful of kids in the audience starting to nod off. However, Rebecca Moore responded with Al Pacino’s Theory of Osmosis, a fun combination of accents, humour, science and art. There was even a bit of sex thrown in there for good measure as well.
After this, things started to get quite poignant. Dr Ryan Pink explained that, to him, science is much more comprehensible than language. Carole Angier’s Song of the Oxford Brookes GAIT System was really soothing, explaining that each person has their own signature style of movement. This was followed by social psychologist Tracy McAteer talking about kids with short life expectancies. These ‘unexpected adults’ were the subject of Fiona Sampson’s The Paperweight, which didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
One of the last items was developmental psychologist Dr Louise Bunce’s study of perceptions of reality. It was at this stage that the mind-expanding stuff hit me. We were asked to raise our hands if we believed in monsters. While I didn’t raise my hand, I was tempted to heckle ‘define monster’. Deborah Fielding’s Is it real? tackled this subject in much the same way, asking whether a parent should be afraid of the same things their child is.
I’m not entirely sure whether Science Writes to Life met my expectations or not. It did cover a lot of important subjects, in a way I have not seen done before. This is certainly something I would like to see more of, and there is certainly a lot of scope available. With any luck they will be able to put together an even more compelling evening in future.