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Blurred Lines: Life, Matter, Poetry

Caitlin Stobie, Paul Beales and the Beales Research Group worked on a collaboration as part of the Leeds Creative Labs: Bragg Centre Edition from 2019 to 2022. 

Blurred Lines: Life, Matter, Poetry is inspired by the science of artificial cells and philosophical concepts from new materialism. We have shared interests in considering blurred lines between living and non-living matter and the ethical implications these have for medicine. Our collaboration took shape through a mix of in-person and digital encounters, sharing research images and time in the lab.

We are grateful to the University of Leeds interdisciplinary pump priming fund which allowed the creation of the Bragg Centre Creative Labs, a partnership between the Cultural Institute’s pioneering programme and the Bragg Centre for Materials Research. Research inspiring some of this work was funded by EPSRC (EP/R03608X/1, EP/M027929/1 and EP/T028718/1). This project was also supported by the Centre for Practice-led Research in the Arts (CePRA). 

Cover image credit: Juan Martinez

'grimace scale' is a four-in-one poem.

The visuals are from Juan Martinez's research on developing experimental painkillers for abdominal surgery recovery. Each segment of the cell is represented by a different colour: artificial structures called vesicles are red, membranes are green, and nuclei are blue. When superimposed, the images show how vesicles attach to cells. 

Three experimental poems were written to mimic this process of breaking up an image, using words that explore the ethics of nano-painkillers. Just like parts of a cell or a sentence, they can be viewed apart or together. The title of the final poem refers to how scientists assess pain in subjects during animal testing. 

Image credits: Juan Martinez

'Abiogenesis' responds to research by Marcos Arribas Perez on membrane fusion induced by silica nanoparticles. It uses the structure of DNA to inspire both its form and themes, exploring abiogenesis theory on the origins of life. The poem is first performed by text-to-speech software, then read by the author.

Video credit: Marcos Arribas Perez


Caitlin E. Stobie and Paul A. Beales, 'Life, Matter, Poetry: Blurred Lines and Bilayered Representations of Materials Science', Leonardo 56.3: 314–19 (2023).
Caitlin Stobie, 'Bilayer' and 'Frozen in time and space', in Caitlin Stobie, Thin Slices, Birmingham: Verve Poetry Press (2022). 
Caitlin Stobie, 

'Frozen in time and space', Streetcake Magazine 72.2 (2021).

Russell Group Spring Conference, University of Leeds, 17 March 2022. 

Light Night, Leeds, 14–15 October 2021. 

‘Cellular Environments, Poetry, and the Leeds Creative Labs’. EmergencE/Y: 2021 ASLE Virtual Conference, 26 July – 6 August 2021.

Be Curious, University of Leeds, 5–16 July 2021. 

‘Abiogenesis: Poetry Preview from the Leeds Creative Labs’. Medical Humanities: (In)Visibility NNMHR Congress, Durham University, 21–23 April 2021.

Leeds Creative Labs Share Event, University of Leeds, 12 November 2020. 
Alumni Webinar, University of Leeds, 4 August 2020.
Leeds Creative Labs Share Event, University of Leeds, 30 January 2020.

Image credit: Andrew Booth

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