In January 2011, Newcastle Science City awarded the Community Science Grant to two artists at Charles Street Community Association to deliver workshops that engaged the local community in a discourse that transcended the traditions of art and science. Artists Mick Smith and Rachael Allen designed various projects and activities to stimulate learning opportunities through scientific experimentation and the visual arts.
Leonardo Da Vinci: Man and Machine celebrates the creative achievements of the workshop participants – namely the community artists. The exhibition is a culmination of artworks produced by these artists throughout the year long project, and works created specifically for the exhibition by the project artists, inspired by the workshop experience.
The Community Science Grant presented the opportunity to bring art and science to people in the community that would otherwise be without. The workshops provide a stimulating, thought-provoking, creative environment for one to boost their knowledge of science whilst developing their artistic skills.
Using the life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci – artist, scientist, inventor, engineer, and mathematician – the workshops bridged the gap between arts and science, whilst engaging with the central themes of Science City:
Health and Aging workshops included Anatomise me! which explored issues relating to human health and physiological aging. Da Vinci studied human anatomy throughout his life and rendered the biological body using drawing, sculpture and painting; adopting scientific practices such as dissection, observations and writings. Community artists engaged with the process of anatomical art making, often involving the use of their own body parts in drawing, clay work, plaster casting and mixed media sculpture.
Artworks from Anotomise me! Community Science workshops, 2011
Materials including lining paper, graphite, charcoal, ink, paint and colored pencils
Created by community artists
We all have a body, and we all are aging. Biological aging is not something that happens only to old people. It is a continuing, normal process that begins at maturity and eventually ends with death. Besides the lessons we are taught in biology at school, where else do we learn about our bodies? To have a degree of knowledge of the body we inhabit will nourish our awareness of the importance of maintaining health through life.
The community artists were invited to join in pairs and draw around each others body outline. Presented with informative imagery on the human skeleton and physiology, they created a visual representation of their bodies using a variety of drawing materials, and were encouraged to experiment with different media effects.
By means of observing and drawing their bodies, the community artists literally ‘anatomised’ themselves.
Artworks from Anotomise me! Community Science workshops, 2011
Materials including plaster, clay, mod rock and alginate
Created by community artists
Anatomise me! workshops invited the artists to explore the science of health and aging through the creation of artworks using their own bodies as material. Like Da Vinci’s studies of human anatomy in drawing, sculpture, and painting, the community artists used creative materials and processes to explore the science of the aging body.
The human hand is most sensitive to the aging process with exposure to the stress of daily activity. These artworks were created using modelling materials and techniques that have the visual aesthetics or sculpting qualities for rendering the aging human hand. Fragile and delicate to touch, the plaster hands evoke the brittleness of aging bones, and the gapping mod rock brain illustrates that of an Alzheimer’s sufferer.
Environmental Sustainability workshops engaged with the issues, problems, solutions and science relating to environmental and energy sustainability. Da Vinci spent a great deal of time observing people working around him, and coming up with ideas for machines to make their jobs easier. He invented all sorts of machines for a variety of industries that, like most of these inventions, weren’t built during his lifetime or for many centuries after that. Community artists were invited to recreate Da Vinci’s machines designed to sustain energy and natural resources, using a variety of recyclable materials and art media.
Leonardo Da Vinci Robotic Expertise Recycled
Recycled Materials including reclaimed timber, cardboard, nuts,
bolts, metals, wire and cord, wool
Inspired by community workshops, created by community artists,
Rachael Allen and Dave Nicholson
This artwork is a culmination of the previous Da Vinci studies into human anatomy and sustainability. Members were invited to explore the connection between man and the machine to further develop their skills and the process of anatomical art using recycled materials, more advanced art media and scientific techniques.
In 1495, Da Vinci created his robot to prove to himself that a human beings' body could be imitated. He used his initial studies of anatomy and kinaesthetic in Florence to design the robot. His creation was an extension of his hypothesis that the human body is a machine in structure and that intricate movements could be imitated with the use of engineering machine parts such as levers and pulleys. He was a man interested in military warfare and it is no surprise his creation was clad in period Italian / German armour and stood taller than a man.
Leonardo Da Vinci studies of human anatomy, mechanics, science and robotics where explored using drawing, engineering, carpentry sculpture, as well as scientific practices, such as dissection, observations and writings. Like Da Vinci, the participants used art as their tools to bring together man, machine and sustainability.
The artwork captures the aesthetics and mechanical genius of Da Vinci, exposing the intricacies, mechanics and power of the human arm and hand. Designed and built by Dave Nicholson, the robot’s arm is controlled by a crafted mechanical ratchet, lever and pulley system, powered by a crank via a cable to the component parts of the arm. Protection is given to the vulnerable robotics by bespoke armour and woollen chain mail, created by Rachael Allen. The robot has been designed and created by techniques and materials that are robust yet mobile, presenting a presence of authority and power that brings the robot to life.
Leonardo Da Vinci Military Engineer Recycled
Triple Barrel Cannon
Recycled materials including reclaimed timber, nuts, bolts, plastic pipe and metals
Inspired by community workshops, created by Dave Nicholson
Written by Dave Nicholson:
This work is inspired from attending the year long community workshops, which rekindled my flair and desire to create, opened my mind to the genius of Da Vinci and brought together my previously dormant creative engineering and carpentry skills
As a military engineer, one of Da Vinci’s key beliefs was that mobility was crucial to victory on the battlefield. A prime example is his triple barrel cannon invention.
During Da Vinci’s time, cannons were generally used in stationary positions over use in the battlefield, due to their heavy weight and extensive reloading time. Da Vinci designed his triple barrel cannon to solve both of these problems – a fast and light weapon that caused extensive damage on the battlefield.
The design featured three thin canons that would be front-loaded and adjustable in height, unlike a traditional cannon, where one shot would be fired before reloading. Da Vinci’s cannon allowed soldiers to load three shots at once, enabling them to fire more frequently. The lighter weight and large wheels allowed the gun carriage to be moved around to different areas during battle.
Although only faded sketches remain, the piece captures the ethos of the Triple Barrel Cannon, again adhering to the principles of sustainability using reclaimed timber and materials.
I dedicate this work to my dad who from an early age nurtured my engineering creativity and more recently was the provider of many nuts, bolts, fixings and materials from his garage for my works.
The Vitruvian Man
Collaboration with community and project artists
Original Vitruvian Man image composed by Justin Stabler
Written by Justin Stabler:
In approximately 1487, Leonardo Da Vinci created his idealised study of human male anatomical proportions, the Vitruvian Man. The striking nature of Leonardo’s famous illustration reflects the Renaissance interest in examining the essence of physiology. Like so much of Da Vinci’s classical work, the drawing completely captures and questions the possibilities contained within our world. With a continuing exploration of the sensation of being alive and our relationships and responsibilities with the planet itself.
Drawing upon this concept for Leonardo Da Vinci: Man and Machine, community and project artists have chosen to redefine and update this iconic image. Including contemporary references such as the visuals of a human foetus awash in amniotic fluid, a heart monitor, wind turbine, suit of armour, x-ray images, a clock face to represent the nature of time and a scan of a child floating in every human being’s first environment, the womb.
The collaborative artwork utilises materials such as ink, paint, graphite, and collage, including a monochrome extract of human blood vessels, detail of a macro photo of human skin and a picture extract of materials waiting recycling. An impression is formed which respects both the intentions of the Da Vinci original and highlights the continuing importance and links between art, science, ecology, education and inspiration.
In a world that often seems to be overflowing with waste, the importance of the sustainable nature of art, technology and creative material has come of age.
Preview event, Tuesday 13th March
Visual treats on the refreshment table...
Ian Simmons, Science Communication Director at Life
Project Artists, Dave Nicholson and Rachael Allen
Special thanks goes to Newcastle Science City for awarding us the Community Engagement Grant, all community artists involved in the workshops, Charles Street Community Association for housing a year of creativity, Justin Stabler for his unique visions, Ian Simmons and Centre for Life for their generosity, and of course, Dave Nicholson for his unconditional commitment and altruism towards the dissemination of the project. It has been an absolute pleasure to collaborate with Dave, and to bear witness to the flourishing of his sculptural skills and innovative creativity.