Pint of Science Collaboration - Manuela Hübner and Dr Evi Margaritis

Creative Reactions is an art-related event organised by Cambridge Creative Network  and the Cambridge Pint of Science team, that is going to be the grand-closure of Pint of Science 2015 in Cambridge on 21st May at St Barnabas Church in Mill Road. In the build up to Pint of Science, 55 local artists are creating artwork in response to the talks and often in collaboration with the scientist they have been paired with. One such collaboration is between artist Manuela Hübner and Archaeolgist Dr Evi Margaritis. Here, Manuela tells us of her experience and the resulting artworks...

Manuela Hübner

The Arrival at The Realisation

“It had to be food…”, I thought.

Cooking is one of my least favourite activities; I despise cookery programmes and the whole Western food pornography and obsession.

“But hey, on a positive note, it’s Antiquity!” – a topic that has fascinated me since my childhood days.

I was surprised to suddenly find myself with "Bread, bulgur, wine and olive oil: Food in Antiquity" as my subject area, which was a million miles removed from my original choice.

But there is always a reason for unforeseen changes, so I was happy to accept the challenge and plunge into unfamiliar territory – and what an artistic and personal challenge it would turn out to be!

I didn't really know what to expect when I first met up with my scientist, archaeologist and Cambridge research fellow Dr Evi Margaritis, in early March. 

Manuela Hübner

What I was to learn that day and over the next few weeks about ancient Greece and the role of food inside and outside the Aegean kitchen was to take me far beyond culinary concerns and into fundamental debates about the nature of humankind.

My second meeting with Dr Margaritis was spent in her laboratory, looking at plant remains from different eras and locations under the microscope. The specimens – charred olive stones, figs and grape seeds – were tiny, but the fact that they had been handled by human beings some thousands of years before left me with a sense of awe.

Over the following weeks I read Dr Margaritis’ scientific papers and studied literature on life and art in ancient Greece, from prehistory to Hellenism. 

The more I read, the more confused I became. There were so many different aspects and avenues to explore; I didn’t quite know where to begin or what I actually wanted to say. For a start, my usual method of working is more intuitive; it starts with randomness and accidental shapes and patterns, which then trigger an idea. But here a much more intellectual approach was required. 

At the same time, the more I learnt, the more something else started to dawn on me: we humans haven't really changed!

We still eat and drink pretty much the same, we still cultivate and process food in the same way (just think of the all-time favourites wine and olive oil) and we still pursue the same activities. 

Manuela Hübner

Our tools and systems might have become more complex and time-efficient, but our motivation for their employment is still unchanged: survival, love, lust, greed, power, status, vanity… Even some of the same exploitative social, political and fiscal systems and hierarchies are still in place.

I felt a mixture of despondency and disappointment.

On the upside, the simplicity, purity and serene beauty of prehistoric and early Aegean art had me hooked – I loved the way in which it stripped the human form right back to its essence.

After weeks of research, museum and library visits, brainstorming, discussions, preliminary sketches, several dismissed ideas and near breakdowns as this was all getting a bit too head-heavy, the fog suddenly lifted one day and the way forward was clear:  an honest account of this journey that ties together the present and the past.

And if that wasn’t enough, it had to be large scale, which meant canvas (I prefer working on paper) and a few space issues.

I had my work cut out!

Manuela Hübner

The artistic influences on the outcome are, I think, obvious: schematic Cycladic figurines, early Aegean friezes and ceramics, the colours of the Mediterranean and, maybe less obvious but no less important, Pablo Picasso.

A month and a half later, I added the final touch to The Realisation and signed the piece off.

During this Art-meets-Science collaboration I have met some great people, have been granted insights into new worlds and places, learnt a lot and have evolved artistically and personally. And all that thanks to an unforeseen change!

The Realisation will be on show together with all the other science-inspired artworks at the final Pint of Science exhibition on 21 May 2015 from 1 – 10 pm at the St Barnabas Church on Mill Road, Cambridge.

www.manuelahubner.com

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