On homecoming

I was always a scientist. At school I did science and other ‘sensible’ subjects; I wanted to do art as well but that wasn’t allowed, either at school or at home. It was blocked by bureaucracy. It was knocked out of me. Whenever I could I arted. I went to galleries. At sixth-form I spent free periods in the art room where one of the teachers did her best to develop me though I wasn’t doing an art subject. I got a science degree, an MSc, a PhD, three Fellowships. I still arted here and there. Often when I should have been sciencing. I was a lecturer and consultant, and then…

…I decided. Around the same time a certain referendum happened which killed off my EU-based income (no-one will fund an uncertain future). So, I was pushed just as I jumped. Cue conflicted feelings. Actually, no, I would have gone anyway. I told the world I was an artist. I made art, exhibited, sometimes sold. I make art.

Then a new gallery opened. I got a job there and the first day I walked through the door, I felt more at home than I ever did in scientific academia/business. It’s hard to explain why – both are reliant on funding, both have committees and top-down decision-making, but something’s different, and for the better. It’s less like the squabbling wizards of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University. It’s less about gravitas-as-a-virtue, less about a marketable product, and more about expression and unbridled interest. Neurodiversity is embraced rather than being seen as grounds for exclusion. Damn, it feels good.

Do I still love science? Yes. Do I miss being a scientist? No (I’ve settled into a kind of amateur-naturalist role). As an artist, I’m self-taught and will stay that way (can’t get a student loan for a ‘lower’ degree even if shifting subjects completely). I take my art just as seriously as any one else, and expect to be treated accordingly – and I think this is the case. There is ageism in the Arts sometimes and I will rail at it, kick against it until it ceases to be. Society expects changes of career, so needs to support, not block, this transition. I am motivated. Art is not my hobby. I’m a latecomer so am impatient to make up time. I was always an artist.

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These images are from Homecoming, a recent installation in The Art House. My old lab-coat has been used, embedded with various objects, hanging above elements that evoke my interest in the Anthropocene from an artistic perspective. Thus, the piece forms a bridge between my old scientific life and my new artistic one.

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