METABOLON
Changing Perceptions Tour


METABOLON is an art installation created by artist Seiko Kinoshita and scientist Dr Nate Adams, originally commissioned for Festival of the Mind 2016. It is based on the research performed by Nate and his colleagues from the laboratory of Professor Neil Hunter FRS, in the department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield.

After their first successful art and science collaboration, the giant GFP Origami for Krebs Festival in 2015, Seiko and Nate continued their conversations and developed the artistic concept and design of METABOLON. On gaining funding from Arts Council England, Festival of the Mind, and the BBSRC, they created the beautiful physical installation with artist Darren Richardson.

In 2018, Seiko and Nate secured further funding from Arts Council England and The University of Sheffield to tour METABOLON and their new work Aegis to 20-21 Visual Arts Centre (27/10/2018 - 7/1/2019), The Hartlepool Art Gallery (19/1/2019 - 16/3/2019), and Cheltenham Science Festival (4/6/19 - 9/6/19). Exhibitions in 2020 were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as such we installed Aegis in Victoria Works Arts Centre (18-22/8/20) to support the Circus-Science show 'Physical Education' and for archiving purposes.

In this touring exhibition, they have created art installations to explore the invisible nano world that Nate researches in the lab, hoping to change peoples’ perceptions towards both Art & Science which are often seen as incompatible subjects.

Gallery

See photos from the tour. 

The science and the work

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METABOLON

To make the green pigment chlorophyll, many complex chemical reactions must occur, accelerated and protected by enzymes. The colourful molecules produced during this process are toxic and must be shuttled safely from one enzyme to the next to prevent damage to the cell. To ensure the fast progression of all these steps, the enzymes are physically located near to each other at a something called a membrane, a surface and barrier within a cell.


While research involves a world of data, equations and graphs, often scientists have a virtual or cartoon representation of their work in their mind‘s eye. Science involves a lot of imagination, but ideas are communicated in text; scientists write essays which discuss their experimental results and theories. METABOLON is research as contemporary art. While Seiko has used experimental results as a starting vision, using her intricate craft skills she has created a unique aesthetic to produce an artistic interpretation of the chlorophyll biosynthesis pathway. Seiko has taken inspiration from the ‘standard’ membrane model, taught in biology textbooks, but has also rotated it 90 degrees so that you may explore the work at a more intimate level.

Science is a physically demanding practise, requiring meticulous repetitive experiments to build a complete story. Seiko mimics this in her artistic practise. Particularly using traditional hand craft skills, here folding over 6000 pieces of paper 84,000 times over a three months period. She hopes by visualising this repetitive process, people can feel the effort going into the experimental process required by science. The steel sculptures are inspired by the intricate three dimensional structures of the proteins, and hand welded by sculptor Darren Richardson.

Aegis

Enzymes are able to perform chemical reactions at room temperature and in an environment filled with water. Many equivalent reactions performed in a laboratory by scientists need lots of energy - needing high temperatures, pressures and toxic solvents.

One way that enzymes are able to skirt the high energy requirements found in the lab is by providing the perfect three dimensional environment, positioning all the components of a reaction in the optimal physical space. Then it only requires a small amount of energy to push a reaction over to completion. In addition, enzymes provide protection to the newly formed molecules to prevent unwanted and potentially dangerous side reactions occurring.

The pigments created in the sequence of reactions leading to chlorophyll absorb lots of light energy. Energy is never lost, it is just converted into other forms, such as heat, which within a cell can be very dangerous. To help prevent the newly formed pigments from causing damage, they are held within the protecting embrace of enzymes and proteins, which have systems in place to absorb and safely disperse destructive energy.

Aegis depicts this protecting embrace. Seiko found this protective natural structure reminiscent of a baby in its mother’s womb, and has reflected this delicate quality into this work. The helical structures of the enzyme encase the porphyrin molecule (seen right), producing the environment that assists the reaction and protects the cell from damage.

The helical structures are made with paper yarn which is hand dyed and woven on a traditional hundred year old Dobby Loom. The steel porphyrin pigment is protoporphyrin IX. Here it is about to receive an ion of magnesium in it’s very centre, this is the first step of seven chemical reactions assisted by enzymes which ultimately leads to chlorophyll.

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Films of METABOLON & Aegis

During the creation and touring of METABOLON and Aegis we worked with a number of film makers to create videos to showcase both the installations, and the science.

Creating Metabolon

Aegis and the METABOLON Changing perceptions tour

METABOLON installed in Sheffield Cathedral

Installing Metabolon

Building METABOLON at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre

Dawn starts with the Van.

METABOLON and Aegis are large pieces of work! 

The fragile nature of materials and textiles used in the work means that each piece has to be reconstructed from the basic repeating units, each carefully stored and transported from site to site.  Installation took a team of 4 - 5 people two days on site to build, rig and wire up. You can see a time lapse of the METABOLON install at Sheffield Cathedral below! It's a team effort, with everyone pitching in.

Rigging Aegis has seen the team up large ladders and cherry pickers, and go on rigging courses to understand the safety at work principles of rigging at height! 

Creating the porphyrin molecule

Building the central porphyrin molecule in Aegis

Rigging Aegis

Rigging Aegis at Hartlepool

The team together at Cheltenham Science Festival
Celebrating another install in Cheltenham

Touring Timeline

September 2016

Sheffield Cathedral

METABOLON was installed at Sheffield Cathedral as part of Festival of the Mind 2016. The installation was viewed by 9,687 people and had an online audience of 136,558 (website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube) during the exhibition period.

        'Collaboration between artists + scientists = genius' 


        - Audience member

October 2018 - January 2019

20 21 Visual Arts Centre

The first venue where Aegis was unveiled. The exhibition was viewed by 7,468 visitors.  There were 5 school engagement sessions with 179 students, and 13 informal learning sessions with 157 participants. 


The 20 21 Visual Arts Centre social media channels the exhibition had 19,679 impressions.


       'This was an excellent exhibition for us, combining striking and engaging artworks with science and technology. The installations worked beautifully with the space and the team from Metabolon were professional, knowledgeable and highly-skilled, it was a pleasure working with them. The artworks were a fantastic compliment to our first STE(A)M education conference, and have also led to further discussions about projects crossing Art and Science, including further potential collaboration with University of Sheffield in presenting works commissioned for Festival of the Mind. It has also led indirectly to us working with University of Sheffield on a programme of work placements funded by Research England and the Office for Students in 2021.'


               - Dominic Mason Exhibition Manager 2021

January - March 2019

Hartlepool Art Gallery

The stunning Hartlepool Art Gallery hosted METABOLON, Aegis & One Sunny Day. 

7,281 visitors visited METABOLON & Aegis, including 49 school pupils, 30 students from the Northern School of Art and 22 member of the public for an evening guided tour. On social media the exhibition had a reach of 13,415 people.  

Review at Hartlepool Art Gallery


    'I thought the exhibition was very inspiring. It was educational, thought provoking and showed a high amount of textile skill and imagination.'


        - Caroline Shilson, Cultural officer 

June 2019

Cheltenham Science Festival

17,019 visitor saw Aegis in the Discovery Zone and 14,183 visitors visited METABOLON in the Cyber Zone at Cheltenham Science Festival.


    'The METABOLON & Aegis artworks helped the festival shift to a more creative and immersive experience. The artworks were highlights at the 2019 festival, creating a more audience friendly Discovery Zone.  METABOLON in the Cyber Zone made the space much more colourful and accessible. It was wonderful to work with Seiko, Nate and Darren, and we are now looking to work with more artists in the future'


        - Dr Marieke Navin, Head of Programmes at Cheltenham Science Festival

September 2019

Millenium Galleries, Sheffield

Aegis had a home coming exhibition at the Millenium Galleries as part of the University of Sheffield's Pop Up University Weekend.  The event attracted 1,484 people over 3 days.

August 2020

Victoria Works Art Centre

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, touring to venues in 2019 was impossible. To complete our Arts Council England Grant we installed Aegis at Victoria Works Arts Centre to produce a video archive of the work. In addition the piece was used to create a special atmosphere for the lockdown Circus-Science show 'Physical Education'.

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How small is small? The chemical reactions of life occur at the nanometre scale (10^-9 metres). METABOLON and Aegis explore the invisible nano-world that exists within the cells of a leaf from a plant. The sculptures you see are around 50 million times bigger than real life.


The molecule of chlorophyll shown here measures 2 nanometres across, or 0.000,000,002 metres.    

Workshops and Tours

At each venue open to the public we provided public talks, school enrichment sessions and hands on sessions with the public to use microscopes, observe photosynthesis and make their own origami. 

Schools Workshops

We provided curriculum linked enrichment sessions, exploring how to create you origami, exploring enzymes & shape, charge, function, using microscopes and observing photosynthesis.

Night time tours

A unique opportunity to see METABOLON & Aegis at night. We dimmed the gallery lights to reveal the full grandeur of the art-works. With Nate discussing how the works relate to cutting edge science, and Seiko exploring how she interprets scientific data in craft form.


Family Drop-ins

Day time sessions on weekends, where Seiko, Nate and his team of scientists were on hand to explore the artworks and science behind them. We built origami, made 3D paper models of proteins and explored the world around you using microscopes. 

Address

Nate Adams
The University of Sheffield,
Firth Court,
Western Bank,
Sheffield S10 2TN
UK

METABOLON: Changing Perceptions tour is supported by

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