The Art of Science – the 2013 HMRI Art Series

May 15 2013

It has long been conjectured that art and science share some underlying truths. While many see the two disciplines at opposite ends of the spectrum, others see notable similarities.

Both require skills to transform information into something else, something new. Both are forms of investigation. Artists apply skillful technique to create things that change the way we feel, scientists use skill and technology to change our health for the better.

The intrinsic relationship between art and medical research has been highlighted in the 2013 HMRI Art Series, an initiative that began over eight years ago.

Each year, HMRI commissions a respected local artist to create an artwork to represent the work of the HMRI Researcher of the Year.

These artworks hang on the walls of many of HMRI’s gracious supporters as a reminder of the research discoveries they have helped achieve. The original artwork is then auctioned at the annual HMRI Ball.

The 2013 artwork introduced into the series was created by iconic local artist Rod Bathgate.

While Rod is traditionally known for his sweeping Novocastrian seascapes, he was eager to engage with the challenge of depicting Professor John Attia.

Professor Attia is a multidisciplinary epidemiologist who crosses the boundaries between many disease areas, including asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental health and stroke.

As a member of HMRI’s Information Based Medicine and Public Health programs, he has personally developed high-level collaborations with renowned researchers within Australia and around the world.

Having been cited more than 2200 times and had more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles published, Professor Attia has richly deserved his title as 2013 Researcher of the Year.

Yet regardless of the accolades, Professor Attia is very warm and welcoming, like speaking to a wise and familiar friend.

“When I tell people at parties that I am an Epidemiologist they give me this puzzled look,” Professor Attia said. “An Epidemiologist is hard to define but basically it’s just about making sense of data.

“I feel very privileged to work with lots of people in different areas. We work hand in hand to help them design the best study to answer the question, pick the right instruments to gather the data and then help do the statistical analysis at the end so they get the right answers to the questions they were asking.

“Biology is incredibly complex and incredibly beautiful. We are an amazing machine and the more you study it, the more you realise how awe-inspiring it is.”

It was Rod’s brief to capture that variety and complexity in one image.

When Professor Attia and Rod Bathgate first met the challenge of representing Epidemiology, along with their shared spiritual beliefs, became clear.

“It was an incredibly difficult brief, when I began talking to Professor Attia the complexity of his work became clear, but there was something very beautiful among the many layers of his research,” Mr Bathgate said.

“Many weeks passed and I was still searching for inspiration. Then one night I woke in a cold sweat – I had dreamt I was in a maze that I couldn’t get out of and that was it!

“I had been searching for the very thing that was the answer to the question.”

Titled ‘WELL’, Bathgate’s artwork presents a sprawling maze engulfed between the sky and the ocean with the word WELL forming among the maze walls.

“For me, Professor Attia’s work has many complexities but essentially it is about language, it’s about translating data and making this into a language that could be fed back to the patient to improve their wellbeing,” Mr Bathgate explains.

“I used the word WELL because it had many meanings. All meanings lead to a source the same way the ‘canals’ all lead through the maze to the ‘WELL’ and flow both ways.”

While Bathgate and Professor Attia’s professional expertise are worlds apart, they share an uncannily similar understanding of the connection between art and science.

“Both science and art are creative endeavours; there is something creative about designing a study in the best way to answer a particular question,” Professor Attia said.

“In the same way that an artist works within the limits of his/her medium to create something new, a scientist works within the limits of his/her methods and instruments to discover something new.”

It seems the Art Series has served as a serendipitous moment where both scientist and artist have shared an understanding of the familiarity between their craft.

“It is important that we have people who interpret the world, I see my job as being able to capture Professor Attia’s voice in an image. It gives research another means of expression beyond the papers and data,” Bathgate reflects.

“The art series is an interpretation and this is my humble interpretation of Johns inspiring research.”

The 2013 HMRI Art Series was supported by Chris and Shirley Piggott, Rod Bathgate, Classic Framing and Memorabilia, and NCP.

You can now purchase a special series of HMRI greeting cards featuring images created for the annual HMRI Art Series.

The Art Series gift card set include five artworks from local artists including Susan Weaver, Trevor Weekes, Susan Ryman, Kerrie Coles and Rod Bathgate.

The Art Series gift cards come in a gift pack of 10 and are available through the HMRI website (hmri.org.au) or phone 4042 1000. Cards are blank inside, and include an explanation of each artwork.