2010 Rakow Commission Artist: Luke Jerram

Luke Jerram (2010)

Smallpox Virus and HIV - Luke Jerram

Smallpox Virus and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) from the “Glass Microbiology” Series

Luke Jerram (British, b. 1974)
With the assistance of Brian Jones and Norman Veitch
United Kingdom, Bristol, 2010
Blown and flameworked borosilicate glass
a) H: 25.7 cm, Diam: 17.5 cm; b) H: 17.5 cm, Diam: 18 cm
2010.2.46, the 25th Rakow Commission

Luke Jerram describes himself as a “color-blind installation artist, who fuses his artistic practice with scientific and perceptual studies.” He creates sculptures, installations, soundscapes, and public art projects that investigate how the mind works, particularly in connection with perception and reality.

Luke Jerram, Photo courtesy of Wellcome Trust

Jerram’s approach to artmaking is multidisciplinary, and he uses whatever materials are most appropriate to realize his ideas. His work is inspired by his research in the fields of biology, acoustic science, music, sleep research, ecology, and neuroscience.

His projects, which have garnered much media exposure, range from placing upright pianos in outdoor locations in cities around the world for the public to make music (“Play Me, I’m Yours”) to studying the effect of sound on dreams (“Dream Director”) to creating a wind pavilion (“Aeolus’).

The Museum’s 25th Rakow Commission by Jerram makes reference to art history and to science, two fields of inquiry—in connection with glass—that have constituted the intellectual core of the operations of the museum since its opening in 1951.

For the Commission, Jerram created two flameworked and blown glass sculptures, Smallpox Virus and HIV, from his “Glass Microbiology” series. In this series, he explores the tension between the beauty of his glass sculptures, the deadly viruses that they represent, and the global impact caused by these diseases. “The Smallpox Virus celebrates the 30th anniversary of the global eradication of this major disease,” Jerram says. “And the HIV represents humanity’s current worldwide struggle.”

For the “Glass Microbiology” project, Jerram worked with virologist Andrew Davidson to research the physical structures of the viruses, taking inspiration from high-resolution electron microscopic images and scientific models. With the help of scientific glassblowers, he created scientifically accurate depictions of notorious viruses and bacteria such as HIV, E. coli, SARS, and recently, H1N1. The sculptures are approximately one million times larger than the actual viruses.

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