Exploring the Art-Science Fusion: Science Gallery Bengaluru’s CARBON Exhibition

Near the ticket counter of Majestic metro station in Bengaluru, a fascinating exhibit catches the attention of passersby. A life-sized cut-out of a human body stands next to a rack filled with glass containers of various sizes. Inside these containers is a black substance that closely resembles tiny pieces of coal. Two individuals, dressed in black t-shirts, sit beside the rack. At first glance, a passenger exiting the metro station mistakes them for salespeople offering Ayurveda medicines. However, these individuals are actually volunteers from Science Gallery Bengaluru (SCB) who are stationed next to artist Daniela Brill Estrada’s thought-provoking exhibit called “Allotropy of Mine.” This exhibit seeks to shed light on the amount of carbon present in our bodies.

The volunteers from SCB explain that each glass bottle in Estrada’s exhibit represents the carbon contained within different tissues, organs, and molecules of her own body. By showcasing this artwork, the exhibit encourages us to ponder upon two crucial questions: Is there any distinction between the carbon atoms within these glass bottles and those within our own bodies? And how does carbon contribute to our understanding of the human body?

“Allotropy of Mine” is just one of four exhibits strategically placed across four metro stations in Bengaluru, including Majestic, MG Road, Indiranagar, and Sandal Soap Factory. This larger exhibition is known as CARBON #inthecity, and its primary objective is to explore our relationship with carbon in the context of our bodies, cities, and transit systems.

According to Jahnavi Phalkey, the executive director of SCB and a member of the curatorial team for CARBON #inthecity, this exhibition serves as an essential component of SCB’s efforts to enrich public discussions about climate change. In recent years, carbon has been viewed as a problematic element, with discussions surrounding its mitigation, reduction, containment, and trading. However, Phalkey emphasizes that we must not forget that carbon is fundamental to life on our planet. It forms an integral part of both living and non-living matter and cannot be disregarded or tampered with without significant long-term consequences.

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What sets these exhibits apart is the unique combination of art and science. All four exhibits, including “Allotropy of Mine,” “Hydrocarbons,” “Streichhölzer,” and “Jīvāṇu,” delve into the concept of carbon from distinct perspectives, transcending the simplistic categorizations of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ For instance, Daniela Brill Estrada’s exhibit aims to explore the notion of “non-hierarchical studies” on matter. She creatively represents the amount of carbon in the human body using charcoal, a substance built entirely of carbon atoms.

Estrada explains that her inspiration stemmed from a desire to understand the elements that make up our bodies and how they interact with one another on Earth. By examining the origin of chemical elements in the cosmos and analyzing their diverse manifestations on our planet, be it in the form of living, mineral, artificial, or digital matter, she provokes us to imagine the journey of every atom, born out of cosmic events, as it transforms into the various types of matter we encounter. In “Allotropy of Mine,” Estrada seeks to unravel the fundamental disparities between living and non-living matter and the significance of carbon in this exploration.

To further elaborate, she points out that a human body consists of approximately 18% carbon. This means that to sustain life, there are approximately 10.8kg of carbon atoms responsible for constructing cells, tissues, DNA, glucose, and more. In her installation, Estrada represents this weight of carbon through 10.8 kg of coal enclosed in different glass bottles. Each bottle artistically symbolizes the amount of carbon present in various parts of her own body.

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Beyond Estrada’s exhibit, there are numerous other engaging displays as part of CARBON #inthecity. The objective of SCB is to expand public awareness and understanding of climate change through the blending of art and science. By moving away from traditional science communication models, SCB aims to establish a two-way bridge between research and the public, emphasizing the relevance of rigorous scientific knowledge in our daily lives. This means that SCB actively explores forms of creative expression, including art, to foster public engagement.

Apart from the pop-up exhibits at metro stations, CARBON also features over 70 events, including a film festival featuring the work of more than 30 artists. The exhibition is held in association with prestigious institutions such as the University of Zurich, Raman Research Institute (RRI), the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), and York University. Generous support from organizations like Swissnex, the Swiss Arts Council, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF), Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), and Canada Council for the Arts has made this exhibition even more impactful.

For those interested in exploring these exhibits, the pop-up exhibition in the metro stations will be open until the end of October. To find out more information about the CARBON #inthecity exhibition, including a detailed schedule of events and additional resources, please visit carbon.scigalleryblr.org. This immersive exhibition offers a unique opportunity to contemplate our relationship with carbon and its significance in our lives, urging us to reconsider our understanding of this vital element and its role in our existence.

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