Hidden Kingdoms: Shifting Worlds – Work by Derek Hill at the CBCB, 2016–2022
@Baddiley-Clark Building, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AX. (0191 208 3203)
August 5th until November 30th, 2022.
Hidden Kingdoms: Shifting Worlds is the result of a collaborative research process between Derek Hill and the CBCB, initiated by Hill, Professor Jeff Errington, FRS, the centre’s director, and Professor Colin Harwood. In addition to a large number of time-lapse imaging films produced in response to experiments with microbial reactions undertaken by Hill, alongside Dr Richard Daniel, within the labs of the CBCB, this collaboration has resulted in the creation of, to date, more than 70 large-scale paintings and multiple HD photographs, drawings, notebooks, and sketchbooks. The paintings that are currently exhibited exemplify this vast body of work.
To Hill, the canvas becomes a reactionary space, within which silos are built upon and created alongside one another. Where shifting reactionary and conflicting processes occur, before settling into unified macro- and micro- scopic worlds. Worlds that are fragile, yet symbiotic; reactionary, yet harmonious; visceral, yet otherworldly. The resulting work synchronously recalls post-industrial landscapes, aerial photography, and microscopic reactions. The addition of found objects serves to ground the work, placing the viewer back within their anthropometric experience of reality, their physical and cultural presence within the everyday. The display of the current work is a new departure point for Hill. Positioning the paintings as floor pieces becomes particularly pertinent within the context of the CBCB, requiring the viewer to become an observer from above, much in the same way that a scientist encounters a petri dish when observed through a microscope.
Hill’s curiosity about the microbial world was initially triggered by a life-threatening streptococcal infection in 1990, which profoundly influenced his artistic development and stimulated a desire to consolidate his current practice alongside scientists. Indeed, the dynamics of collaboration have been central to Hill’s practice throughout his career. In addition to gallery exhibitions, Hill has strived to establish situations that enable his work and practice to be positioned outside of mainstream art communities. To this end, for 26 years, Hill was the artistic lead of the Art Studio, Sunderland, an inspirational collaborative studio, exhibition space, and forum for people suffering from mental illness. Hill’s spirit of collaboration has continued throughout this residency. At the CBCB, Hill has worked alongside world-leading microbial scientists, conducting his own experiments and engaging in constructive debate. It is Hill’s intention to develop the collaborative nature of this project further, through a series of public open days to be held both within the labs of the CBCB and beyond, at his studio, ultimately extending the collaboration to produce a further program of exhibitions.
For Hill, the studio acts in much the same way as the laboratory does for the scientist. It is an environment in which he undertakes a laborious, knowledgeable, yet sometimes unknown, journey of experimentation and discovery. A process guided by decades of experience into the complex interactions between materials. The materials selected by Hill involve a mixture of water and solvent-based paints; more recently, new technology-based industrial paints have become incorporated into the work. Beyond these works, Hill’s use of non-traditional materials is extensive, including resins, cow dung, grit, and bitumen.
” Hill’s work has provided a uniquely different perspective on the interaction between microorganisms. This has in some ways bridged the gap between our research into the complex interactions that occur at the molecular level in a cell or a specific strain and how they impact bacterial cell morphology and viability and how they are visually altered in nature. Both of these aspects are well documented in the scientific literature but are not easily conveyed to the general public. As such, our collaboration with Hill is an ideal platform on which to develop public engagement in an area of biology that has significance to all aspects of life. “
Dr. Richard Daniel, CBCB
“I can’t speak highly enough of Derek and his passion and commitment to melding the contrasting approaches of art and science in the context of microbiology.” Science is too often a highly regimented mission aimed at understanding fundamental mechanisms of life, while Derek’s art relieves us of that rigid discipline and takes us into a world just as passionate but vivid and unfettered by the logical framework in which we scientists are normally trapped! “
Professor Jeff Errington, FRS, Director of CBCB
Text by Davy Smith.
Thanks to Professor Jeff Errington, FRS, Professor Colin Harwood, Dr Richard Daniel, and all other staff and members of the CBCB for their continued support and friendship throughout the collaboration. Thanks to Newcastle University for their support.
Further work can be seen online at www.derekhill.co.uk/work/ or at Hill’s studio by appointment via the CBCB and the artist.