I’m back at my desk after being invited to the launch of the 2018 exhibition programme at Science Gallery Dublin. I first discovered Science Gallery on the second day after I moved to Dublin, having just got off a train at the nearby Pearse Station. I walked past this newish-looking building and spied what looked to be a very nice coffee shop inside. When I eventually did sample a flat white there, I was 100% impressed – some of the best coffee in Dublin. Science Gallery physically stands at the boundary between the campus of Trinity College Dublin and the local community beyond it, which I think is one of its greatest successes.
However, I’m not in Science Gallery’s demographic – the exhibitions are aimed at 15 – 25 year olds, which cleverly encompasses children finishing their secondary school education, young adults at college, and students doing undergraduate studies or taking their first steps in the workplace. I did go along to the launch of their 2018 programme, though, because as a researcher working at the interface between the humanities and medical sciences, the gallery has captured my imagination. I had previously attended the opening of the fantastic “In Case of Emergency” exhibition earlier this year (it’s still on – go and see it now!). My favourite exhibit was Anna Dumitriu’s beautiful and horrific Antibiotic Resistant Quilt. I’ve recently been to see my doctor, and the waiting room walls were plastered with public service notices: “Listen to your doctor, take your antibiotics exactly as advised” and “Antibiotics are for bacteria, not for viruses like cold and flu”, so this struck a chord with me.
The programme for 2018 is packed with events that will pull the aforementioned target demographic right in through the doors : “FAKE” (opening 2nd March); “LIFE AT THE EDGES” (22nd June); and “INTIMACY” (19th October). Come for the exhibitions, stay for the delicious coffee.
What teenager, hearing about “fake news” from every direction could resist coming along to explore “FAKE” in March? It sounds so interesting and so current. It called to mind an exhibition that I went to at the National Gallery in London a few years ago called “Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries” (2010). I remember especially vividly how the seductive blonde woman depicted in the sixteenth-century painting known as “Woman at a Window” had been doctored by Victorian hands to make it more appealing to a new market, darkening her hair, opening her sultry eyes, and veiling her breasts.
As a medievalist specialising in handwriting, “FAKE” brought to mind the rise of autograph writing in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Previously, writers had been happy to use a scribe to do the “dirty work” of writing, adding their official seal and perhaps a signature at the bottom of the letter to signify its authenticity. However, the rise of printing, the increased use of written documentation in business and legal circles, and the expansion of literacy in the later years of the fifteenth century prompted an greater interest in the uniqueness of handwriting. From then on, autograph writing became entangled with notions of authority, authenticity, and individuality. This continued throughout history and right through the twentieth century. Why else would people have collected celebrity autographs so fervently over the years? Why else would people become so upset when “authentic” handwritten documents are proven to be fake?
But is this all being shaken up with the ubiquity of digital writing? How do we now prove our identity, and signify our permission? Where we used to use handwriting to sign cheques, for instance, we might now use a unique pin code (or, nowadays, just tap a debit card on a terminal). Where I might previously have written a letter by hand with my signature at the bottom (and in the medieval period, that letter would be delivered and perhaps read out by a trusted servant), I now more usually send it from my secure email address, for which only *I* know the password (and, in many cases, those email addresses are now protected by “two-step verification”). Despite this, cutting-edge research is still preoccupied, to the point of obsession, with identifying signatures (which can now be collected digitally, of course). Despite this, “graphologists” still make a lot of money analysing handwriting features, which they say they can connect with certain personality traits (I’ve got an article forthcoming on this, watch this space). Who is the faker now, and how do we fake in the digital age?
I’m eagerly awaiting “FAKE” and will probably be first in the queue to get in. I’d highly recommend that you check out the completely-free, community-focused, researcher-fueled, “living experiment” that is Science Gallery. If you can’t make it to Dublin, apparently the concept is now going International, so look out for Science Gallery London, perhaps?