An Artistic Take on Fruit Flies and Sexual Antagonism

'Incubator for Twin Life forms 3' by Neus Torres-Tamarit

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Delicacy and a perfect integration in the native collection described the show Agonism/Antagonism, by artist Neus Tamarit and computer scientist Ben Murray at the Grant Museum of Zoology (Agonism/Antagonism, Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL, London 20th Sep 2018 – 21st Dec 2018). Abstract acrylic installations, digital displays, VR, etchings, a ceiling light projection and a range of specimens cohabited the glass cabinets and spaces of one of London’s oldest natural history museums.

The exhibition was the result of a 1-year artistic residency at Dr Max Reuter´s laboratory, where fruit flies are the centre of a study on sexual antagonism. Within a shared genome, a brutal tug-of-war happens when either of the two sexes develop characteristics inherently female or male, affecting the other part. This is called sexual dimorphism. Influenced by the fruit flies themselves and the laboratory environment, the selection of works materialised the incredibly violent nature of genetic evolution hidden behind this superficial harmony.

Agonism/Antagonism Coupling and Agonism/Antagonism Decoupling are part of a Virtual Reality installation that dominated the central space of the museum. There, Ben and Neus have been conducting a number of sessions for the general public. The artists proposed a couple of scenarios where one can play god while strolling around these alien worlds. Landscapes of genetic material induced the participant to create and destroy capriciously. The visitor was, then, a witness of the battle of the sexes. Mutations in both female and male species result in a brutal fight for decoupling and desynchronisation and ultimate sexual dimorphism.

Projected on the ceiling, Confined Mutations represents the series of genetic modifications that shape an organism. This phenomenon is given a symbolic shape that appears trapped in a perpetual sequence that ultimately loops to its original form.

A series of acrylic installations were scattered around the museum. Laser-cut and bent by hand, these sculptures touch upon genetic antagonism in one way or another. Whereas the pair formed by Gender A – Gender B picture a general view on sexual dimorphism based on ornamentation, Incubator for Twin Lifeforms follow the inspection of fruit fly cocoons under the microscope. The latter presents an array of objects that address creation itself as the sculptures are made of different kinds of bioplastics. These contain polymer molecules, just like the DNA. Neus and Ben´s intention to share their view of the world that surrounds them triggers questions around the (intimate) relationship between art and science. Are they, ultimately, the same thing? Both help us understand our broader context and aim to answer questions about our nature and our context as well as they attempt to depict it. Their integration seems to be an inevitability. Agonism/Antagonism delineates a scientific truth through the lens of art, and, by the decontextualisation of certain materials, it gives a multi-approach view of a scientific topic with artistic resonance.

Agonism/Antagonism, Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL, London
20th Sep 2018 – 21st Dec 2018

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