Ruth Uglow

Commission For the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead.

Last February the Contemporary Art Society contacted me to ask if I would consider being put forward for a commission that they were managing for the Royal Free Hospital, London. The commission was for an artist to produce a series of drawings that celebrate the research that takes place at the Royal Free Hospital.

The areas of research that I felt I wanted to explore was Stem Cell Research, Infectious diseases, Bacteria and Viruses. To fuel my imagination I was able to meet with leading medics in these areas of research, see where they work and talk to them about what they do and what their hopes and fears are for the future.

My First meeting was with Dr Micheal Jacobs, Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases. He took me to see the contained infectious diseases ward within the hospital. I was struck by the logistics in the ward of the management of human particles. It was inspiring to learn about the one way flow of contaminates from an infected patient and this set me to think about the dynamics of airborne particle interaction. Making the series of drawing using a fine nibbed dip pen and ink I felt as if I was creating a bloom of virus which was in constant flux and ever evolving.

Dr Micheal Jacobs then put me in touch with Dr Stephen Mepham, Consultant in Microbiology and infectious diseases. Dr Stephen Mepham showed me around the Microbiology laboratories. It was fascinating to see the scientists preparing, processing and examining the various coloured agar petri dishes. The bacteria growing on the surface created beautiful textured patterns and this inspired me to make a series of drawings that show the growth of bacteria along the sweep on a line.

Finally I met Dr Mark Lowdell, Honorary Consultant Scientist and Director of Cellular Therapy at the Royal Free Hospital. After talking with him my imagination was bubbling over with possibilities for a series of drawings . He gave me a guided tour around the stem cell research laboratory and described in detail the processes required for creating a trachea from a donor scaffold and the introduction of the patients stem cells to create a trachea ready for implant. Seeing the shape of the stem cells and the way they move under the microscope inspired me to think about the way they attach themselves to the scaffold to create the new form. I wanted the drawings to envelop the viewer and draw them within the inner-space of this micro-architectural framework. The drawings for the Stem cell series were made using Copic fine line pen and markers, creating a strong contrast to the infectious disease, virus and bacteria series.

The 10 drawings are now hanging in the Institute of Immunity and Transplantation, as part of the Royal Free Hospitals Art Collection. The commission could not have been more closely related to my own studio practice in subject and making. It has been a truly fascinating and enjoyable commission and an inspiration to meet the people who are pushing the boundaries of medicine.