In the build-up to the Festival the Bloomsbury Creative Lab brought together academics, artists and others to exchange ideas. When I was invited to take part on behalf of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where I work, I queried whether I was being asked as a scientist (I am an epidemiologist, working on infectious disease) or as a sculptor. The answer was “Both”.
I started sculpting a few years ago. My sculptures depict human life and interactions. For example, I use the double helix (the structure of DNA) as a metaphor for the way people interact but ultimately remain separate.
In the Creative Lab Mandana Seyfeddinipur from SOAS described her work on nearly extinct languages, and illustrated her talk using a variation of the Tree of Life to depict evolution and extinction of languages. This resonated with me. In my work on infections I use such “trees”: by looking at the genetic variation in micro-organisms that arises through evolution we can learn about transmission patterns and mechanisms of disease. When I teach students about these evolutionary trees, I use a mobile that used to hang in my children’s bedroom to explain the relationships between the branches.
For the Festival I have brought these ideas together. I have constructed a mobile sculpture, Tree of Language, to show the evolution of the Indo-European languages. Each language is a “leaf” and the length of the branches and their branching pattern show when they diverged from each other. This will hang in Senate House and on Saturday will be accompanied by a performance that it has inspired.
I explore mobiles further to depict the oldest “language” in the world, the genetic code. This code, which forms the building blocks of DNA, determines who we are. Yet, despite the immense complexity of living organisms, I can contain all the variants of the code in a single sculpture. For my third sculpture I zoom out from the level of the DNA strand to the whole chromosome and show the human chromosomes, using giant seed pods.
Judith Glynn (sculptor and epidemiologist)
Judith’s sculptures will be displayed in the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine throughout the Festival.