By Eileen Truong – The University of Melbourne, Bachelor of Science (Human Structure and Function)
When I first heard of Science Gallery Melbourne, I was beyond excited – I could not believe an exhibit showcasing the two fields I am deeply passionate about would be opening at our very own university. Then to have the opportunity to be involved as a mediator was a dream come true. And boy did it exceed my expectations. It was THE most incredible job – no, life experience – I have ever had. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet phenomenal artists, I had the chance to converse with and be inspired by world leaders in science, and most outstanding of all – I had the honour of sharing all of this with thousands of eager people during the fascinating BLOOD exhibition of 2017. Science Gallery Melbourne opened a whole new world for me and showed me just how remarkable our society can be when we bring people together to explore the magical wonders of art and science.
A mediator’s primary role is to help visitors engage with the artwork. To do this, we had to experience the exhibition ourselves first, thus I became one of the lucky first to explore it. What I found most remarkable was how many of my senses were activated. I had the chance to smell blood, and via facial recognition technology I discovered that my emotional reaction to the liquid drop was surprisingly positive. I had the opportunity to hear and feel the chilling vibrations of my own heartbeat, recorded and played back to me in a bathroom that was converted into a mini human recording studio. I was able to immerse myself in a virtual reality journey and see with my own two eyes how strokes and aneurysms form using real patient data. I even got to contribute to the exhibition via the provision of my own fingerprint to a giant wall collage. The exhibition was phenomenal. It really entwined art with science and technology – I could not wait to tell all my friends about it.
As a mediator, I had the privilege of not only sharing all the incredible artworks with my friends, but with everyone that visited too. It was the best job ever. My background is in biological science at the University of Melbourne, so during the mornings I filled my brain with enthralling lectures, and in the afternoons I shared my love of science in the gallery. I felt like I had just discovered a special treasure and had the privileged position of announcing it to the world. The visitors were spectacular people ranging from students and workers in the local area, to people from interstate and overseas. They were young, old, artists, scientists, curious minds and random people who stumbled in while exploring the great city of Melbourne. It was such a pleasure to meet so many wonderful people and witness their reactions to the artworks. Many were just as in awe as I was, and I was thrilled when they wanted to know more as it resulted in fantastic conversations. I was able to help a mother explain to her four-year-old daughter how the heart pumps blood around the body; I got to run through the workings of the female reproductive system with an engaged group of high school boys; I helped prospective University of Melbourne students see how incredible studying art and science can be; I bonded with fellow university students over how miraculous it was for an artist to extract iron from human blood to create a tiny compass needle; and I even helped older adults to reconnect with science and realise that whilst they chose a different career path, they could still engage with science. All these conversations were possible with the help of the artworks on display throughout the gallery. It was really touching to see so many people excited by the exhibition and wanting to explore science further.
The amazing mediator role extended beyond the physical gallery space. I had the opportunity to meet some of the artist such as the Hotham Street Ladies when they recreated part of their artwork You Beaut in one of the city’s famous laneways. This was fun because I was literally being paid to meet talented people and help them use cake icing to graffiti the streets. I was also fortunate enough to help the artist Daniel Elborne replenish his work One Drop of Blood. His piece featured 20,000 handmade porcelain cells to show people the overwhelming number of white blood cells present in just a single drop of blood. This work was inspired by his own mother’s fight with breast cancer, where during chemotherapy he was surprised to learn her white blood cell count dropped. During the exhibition, visitors could take some of the cells in return for a donation towards breast cancer research. At the end of the exhibition, Daniel created more cells to replenish the ones taken, to replicate the white blood cell count rising again once his mother treatment was over. One Drop of Blood was one of my favourite artworks and I was honoured to meet with the creator, hear his personal story and to help him make more cells. It is now on display on the other side of the world, all the way in London!
As well as meeting exceptional artists, I also had the chance to meet extraordinary scientists including Professor Ary Hoffmann, Dr Misty Jenkins and Professor Peter Doherty. I was blown away when I learnt about how Professor Hoffman was infecting mosquitos with bacteria to fight dengue fever; I was in absolute awe of Dr Jenkins for engineering unique antibodies to target cancer cells; and I was pretty much hyperventilating when I met Professor Peter Doherty – he is one of my idols and I could not believe that I was standing there talking to him about his days as a veterinarian, his astounding work in immunology, and how he came to win a Nobel Prize! Science Gallery Melbourne involves so many excellent people that you can’t help but run into a few here and there, especially since we were also invited to be a part of the Leonardo group.
The Leonardo group are an outstanding collection of people who are excellent in their respective fields of science, art, technology, communication and business. They are the brains behind our exhibition themes – I was so happy to be present during their brainstorm for the potential themes and big ideas for the next three years. It was really inspiring to see them work together to think of how they can bring together science and art to engage young people like me. I am incredibly excited for this year’s theme PERFECTION and I can’t wait to see all the creative artworks, the people behind ithem, and the stories they have to tell.
Science Gallery Melbourne is an incredible initiative and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be involved with it from the beginning. I have met so many phenomenal people and worked closely with such a wonderful team – I genuinely never felt like I worked a single moment. What I have said is only a small fraction of the exhilarating experiences I had. All I can say is that if you are passionate about science and want to share it with thousands of people via beautiful works of art, then Science Gallery Melbourne is the place to be. It nurtured my love of science and helped me to become a better communicator so that I can continue to share it with people for the rest of my life. Thank you Science Gallery Melbourne for all the wonderful experience and memories.
Image 1: Eileen Truong in the Body of People installation
Image 2: Eileen Truong and creator of One Drop of Blood, Dan Elborne
Image 3: Robyn Williams (ABC), Eileen Truong and Professor Peter Doherty
Image 4: the 2017 mediator team for BLOOD