Artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy are artists-in-residence at the University of Essex, investigating the relationship between science, race and our everyday lives.
Collaborating with academics Dr Antonio Marco (School of Life Sciences) and Dr Santiago Oliveros (Department of Economics, recently moved to the University of Bristol), they have explored the ethics of scientific discovery and the complex relationship between science, politics and race in our age of avatars, video gaming and DNA Ancestry testing.
The outcome of their residency is a new film entitled A Lament for Power, that has at its nucleus Henrietta Lacks, a black American whose scientist know as ‘HeLa’ – the name given to her cells that were taken from her body without consent – which have gone on advance science including the mapping of the human genome, cures for cancer and the development of vaccines such as Polio and HIV. As the artists tells us, ”there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t benefited from Henrietta Lacks’ cells, yet few know about her”.
Weaving together images from sources that include the gaming world’s ‘Resident Evil 5’, the outcome of this residency will take the form of a video installation that creates a space to make visible the world of scientific research as they probe at the economic and racial divides that underpin our social structures.
Larry Achiampong tells us, “It has been an honour to have the space and time to work on this project, not simply from the point of view of our working processes, but especially, the importance of the responsibility to contribute to the topics highlighted. There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t benefited from Henrietta Lacks’ cells, yet few know about her. The embedded prejudices of racism, sexism and classism and their existence in medicine leaves no space for coincidence in how Lacks’ humanity was unconsidered. We hope that the work produced adds to this much-needed conversation.”
Dr Antonio Marco tells us, “I never thought of myself, as a geneticist, interacting with artists like Larry and Dave, and I have to say that it has been an very enjoyable and learning experience.”
A Lament for Power is the second in an ambitious new series of works by the artists that investigates the relationship between science and race – with the first of this series, A Terrible Fiction, on show at Art Catalyst, London in 2018.
This commission was made possible through the funding of Arts Council of England and the partnership support of a network of curators in the East of England including Wysing Arts Centre (Bourn, Cambridgeshire), Focal Point Gallery (Southend, Essex) and Original Projects (Gt Yarmouth, Norfolk).
Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s work has been shown both within the UK and abroad including Tate Modern, London; The Baltic, Gateshead; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield; Fact, Liverpool; BFI London Film Festival, London; Transmediale Festival, Berlin, Germany & Fort Worth Contemporary Arts, Texas, USA. They have been on residencies at Praksis, Oslo in Norway & Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridgeshire. Recent awards include an Elephant Trust award and support from Arts Council England. They were shortlisted for the Film London Jarman award 2018.
Larry Achiampong is represented by Copperfield Gallery, London and David Blandy is represented by Seventeen Gallery, London.