Creativity and science collided at the Great Exhibition Road Festival in 2023 as one of London most famous roads was turned into a giant canvas. ‘Paint Lab’ saw Exhibition Road become a colour-filled live art gallery for the weekend of the Festival as a curated group of artists created large-scale artworks representing different areas of wondrous science.
Inspired by Imperial College London research into everything from new medical breakthroughs to humanity’s future relationship with machines, and how to urgently tackle the climate crisis using natural solutions and innovation, real research was given creative form in real time through the skills of London’s finest public artists.
Paint Lab was co-curated by Jo Peel and Mark McClure of Interplay with Imperial College London.
Brighter times in hand
Artist: JoJo Bedell
Inspired by conversations with Dr Andreas Kafizas, Department of Chemistry, Imperial College London
In Brighter Times in Hand Jojo Bedell hopes to capture Andreas’ enthusiasm for harnessing the near unlimited green energy supply in sunlight, with her piece that is created using air purifying paint. Andreas Kafizas is developing materials to harness the sun’s rays in new ways, including coatings that could help purify polluted city air.
Inspired by conversations with Elizabeth Ramos Fonseca, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London
In Sustain, Hatch, the moniker of illustrator Dave Smith, playfully depicts a dark truth about our insistence on eating meat and dairy that contradicts any commitment to more sustainable farming practices. Hatch’s animal characters are jam-packed to show a future vision of meat and dairy farming that is far from ‘free range’ and ‘corn-fed’. Elizabeth Fonseca works on the environmental implication of farming practices and agricultural policies.
Artist: Zoe Anker
Inspired by conversations with Dr Salvador Eslava, Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London
In Power, Zoe Anker is creating an abstract representation of materials that could decarbonise our future energy. Taking inspiration from the titanium oxide petrochemical devices that Salvador’s team use to split water with sunlight, her geometric abstracted versions and playful use of colour will create interesting overlays that fit within the theme of her own personal aesthetic.
Dr Salvador Eslava works on the production of clean alternative hydrogen fuel from water and solar energy.
Artist: Andy Macgregor
Inspired by conversations with Dr Chao Wu, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London
In Windcrete Islands, Andy conveys the concept of recycling the non-recyclable, like the wind turbine blades in Chao Wu’s research. His metaphorical, fantasy landscape captures the misconception that wind turbines are entirely beneficial to the environment.
It also a visual interpretation of silicon dioxide, a key molecule in fibre glass used to make turbine blades.
Dr Chao Wu is researching a way to recycle wind turbine blades by grinding them up to make concrete.
Artist: Lily Mixe
Inspired by conversations with Mahika K. Dixit, Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London
In ‘Kaleidoscope’, Lily Mixe combines and overlaps the shapes of bee and butterfly wings in Mahika’s research, to create a semi-abstract composition allowing the patterns and colours to melt together. By playing with symmetrical and asymmetric patterns, Lily hopes for a kaleidoscopic effect, celebrating and mimicking Mahika’s scientific process.
Mahika K. Dixit studies museum specimens to find changes in the structure of butterfly wings that
might be linked to human-made environmental changes.
Artist: Yann Brien
Inspired by conversations with Dr Edward Johns, Department of Computing, Imperial College London
Yann Brien explores how we perceive reality through our own flawed and limited sensory apparatus. In IMA (Imagination Engine) Yann’s contrasting pixelated digital object and analogue ‘real world’ version, show some of the challenges robots face switching between these two worlds as they learn to interact with, and complete tasks in the real world.
Dr Edward Johns studies how robots can learn to physically interact with objects, using their arms and hands.
Fight, fight, fight, fight
Artist: Dan Cimmermann
Inspired by the work of Dr Natalie Shenker, Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London
In ‘Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight’, Dan Cimmermann’s central female figure contains a community of women protecting, guarding, protesting, and fighting for the safety of four babies. It is inspired by the ‘quads of St Neats’, the first premature quadruplets successfully raised through breast milk donations.
Natalie Shrinker’s research into the benefits of human milk for prematurely born babies led to her founding the Human Milk Foundation to support equitable access to donor milk.
Weather the storm
Artist: Ben Slow
Inspired by conversations with Laetitia Firmenich, Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction, Imperial College London
In Weather the Storm, Ben Slow ties Laetitia’s research into his story of two individuals displaying signs of contrasting outcomes. The potentially different futures they face are shown through vibrant fluorescent hues which represent the light-emitting tracers used in Laetitia’s research to trace the distribution and impact of our body’s natural killer cells.
Laetitia's research explores how killer cells combat cancer tumours and how enhancing their potency may inform future cancer treatments.
Small Changes/Big Impact
Artist: Lucille Clerc
Inspired by conversations with Dr Ian Mudway, School of Public Health, Imperial College London
In Small Changes/Big Impact, Lucille Clerc creates a participatory installation that involves each visitor. She hopes to highlight the gradual, unseen build-up of pollutants in our respiratory system and how small, incremental changes to improve air quality may counter its effects. Dr Ian Mudway researches the impacts of air pollution on human health and develops tests to quantify the toxicity of the chemical cocktails that pollute the air we breathe.
London's wild residents
Artist: Tamara Venn
Inspired by conversations with Sebastian Pipins, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London
In ‘London’s Wild Residents’, Tamara Venn brings together 17 examples of the capital’s urban wildlife with the aim of surprising viewers whilst encouraging curiosity and questions.
Sebastian Pipins is a PhD student studying the conservation of flowering plants and has a passion for celebrating the myriad of wildlife living in our cities.