stem cells in their environment

Path to UTOPIA 2016 - Utopian lab: Stem cell hotel

14 September 2016
By Fay Minty

As the programme administrator of the Wellcome Trust ‘Cell Therapies and regenerative medicine’ PhD Programme (of which Prof Fiona Watt is the Director) - I work in the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine where various individuals undertook a cross-discipline project venturing from the world of ‘science into art’.  Having only a superficial idea of what was happening I was delighted when an email hit my inbox announcing that the exhibition: ‘Paths to UTOPIA 2016’ was now open.

So... UTOPIA - the idea of an ideal state – and there are paths to it??? This sounds too good to be true and is how I find myself deep down in the east wing of Somerset House on a Saturday morning in late August with my daughter and Mum.  We enter into the Stem Cell Hotel exhibition area and are greeted by a video:

I place the headphones on my littlie and Granny takes the other set while I check out the display inviting me to ‘Write out my idea of UTOPIA and let it incubate.’  An interesting idea, especially when I realise I can’t think of what to write.  I wasn’t expecting to be philosophically challenged on this outing, especially by such a simple question.  I usually stare blithely at art installations with a mild sense of appreciation but seldom do they actually make me think.  So now I am wondering if, by this virtue, I have to consider this one of the best exhibitions I have ever been to (no bias of course).

Thankfully it is now my turn to watch the video, as I am still stumped by what to write.  I stand in awe as I watch some of my colleagues dial it down several notches and talk about their work in beautifully simplistic terms offering the essence of how stem cells will help them achieve their utopian visions.  There is an element of surrealism to the production which I am trying to discern as I watch it again before I turn my attention back to the ‘lab bench’ where I realise some intervention is required.  My little lady does not recognise the large Eppendorf’s for their purpose and has incorrectly deduced that previous visitors utopian dream vessels (which have been left to incubate) are lipsticks.  After a brief and clearly long overdue ‘science lesson’ we continue on to the other paths to UTOPIA and I continue to ponder the question at hand.

We return to the courtyard which is uncharacteristically blank and expansive today and settle in at one of the spacious and divinely quiet cafes.  As I breathe out a contented sigh and see my coffee approaching, I recognise that this setting has not only provided the answer to many of my needs, but also instead of conceptualising UTOPIA, perhaps I have found it.

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