Léonie Hampton

New arts/science collaboration launched at the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology

Fungi are unique. They are neither plants nor animals and are some of the world’s oldest living organisms. The various fungal species are diverse, with many unique properties: some innocuous, some useful, and some harmful. Their distinctions place this diverse group of organisms in their own kingdom: Kingdom Fungi.

A surprising amount remains unknown about these organisms, and many people are unaware that there is a microscopic kingdom of fungi living silently among us. Unlike other microbes that can infect humans – such as viruses and bacteria – fungi are some of the least studied, and least understood, yet they kill around 1.5 million people each year, worldwide. That is a higher annual death toll than from malaria.

The MRC Centre for Medical Mycology (CMM) at the University of Exeter, who use innovative research to tackle the silent global health threat posed by these microbes, is running an exploratory artist’s residency with Devon-based artist Léonie Hampton, in partnership with Arts and Culture University of Exeter, and Libraries Unlimited (through Evolve – a programme of events and artworks within Devon’s libraries).

In this interdisciplinary exploration of the cutting-edge research being undertaken at the CMM, Léonie and the CMM’s scientists will be encouraged to look anew at ideas and practices around biomedical research, including ways in which the scientific process of discovery and invention can be understood and represented.

Léonie’s starting point will be the concept that for the community of microbes, including fungi, that live in and on you - ‘your microbiome’ - Your body is a planet.

Léonie will create original artwork based on this collaboration which will be shared with public audiences later in 2021, including as part of Libraries Unlimited’s events programme connected to the exhibition ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights’ which explores the work of contemporary activist groups of a range of causes, including increasing the number of women and girls involved in science. This exhibition will be touring to Exeter Central Library from the British Library until autumn 2021.

Sarah Campbell, Associate Director for Arts and Culture, University of Exeter said “The MRC Centre for Medical Mycology is leading on incredible and literally life-changing research. We are thrilled to support the Hidden Kingdoms artist residency that will bring another perspective to this vital work through the lens of the arts. Devon-based photographer and artist Leonie Hampton will bring a wealth of experience to this residency and we can’t wait to see what comes out of this art-science interaction.”

Professor Elaine Bignell, Co-Director (Research) of the CMM, said “The arts and sciences make critical contributions to our world-views and knowledge. We are delighted to be hosting Léonie Hampton as an Artist in Residence to bring these different practices together. We are very much looking forward to working with her to explore how the arts can help us as scientists to reflect upon our understanding of fungal pathogens, and to find new ways to communicate the importance of medical mycology research.”

Daniel Clark, Creative Director at Libraries Unlimited said “We are so excited to work with the team at The MRC centre and Leonie to bring this exciting and illuminatory new work to communities across Exeter and the whole of Devon via our libraries and online resources. The work that they are exploring is essential and exciting and we look forward to working with them to connect audiences around the county with this artwork.”

Léonie Hampton of Still/Moving Collectivesaid about her concept Your body is a planet: “Filled with wonder, I imagine I am standing at the entrance to a labyrinth made by the Kingdom of Fungi that stretches back to the beginning of our own evolution as a species. My challenge will be to find ways to situate the pathogenic pathways between fungi and humans, amongst some of the wider questions of our time concerning our relationships to fellow species we inhabit this planet alongside. Thank you to the scientists and people working at MRC CMM who have given me this opportunity to learn from their pioneering and illuminating research.” 

Date: 8 March 2021

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