Battersea Power Station & Olympics 2012 – Legacy, Land Grabs and Liberties

Olympic Blues

Olympic Blues


Mark Saunders talk and videos

Wednesday, 02 June 2010 17:30

Room 517 (5th floor), Bartlett School of Planning, UCL, Wates House, 22 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0QB.


More info on London Planning Seminars

For more info:
On the Olympics:

On Battersea Power Station:

3 thoughts on “Battersea Power Station & Olympics 2012 – Legacy, Land Grabs and Liberties

  1. Pingback: Battersea Power Station & Olympics 2012; Legacy, Land Grabs & Liberties « Reading The Limits to Capital

  2. What if we turned Battersea into an enormous beautiful hybrid gallery-theatre-laboratory-museum-institute? I’m a museum curator with a very big vision of what Battersea might be. Contact me if interested!

    Living Laboratory proposal

    Laboratory work, particularly in genetics and medicine, has generated many of the most significant and consequential scientific achievements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This work has also reliably been a focus of extraordinary and global public attention. Ethical controversies—such as those about using human embryos as research tools, about genetically engineering living cells, and about testing experimental drugs on both humans and the ‘lower’ animals, to name only three recent debates—will only increase in urgency and complexity as the biotech industry blooms and biomedical research races toward an always shifting future we all must share.
    This field full of lightning-rod research has more or less spontaneously generated a variety of forums for public engagement, ranging from small-scale museum exhibitions to citizens’ advisory committees to online discussion groups. But until today no one has put forward a immodest proposal—an ambitious, broad, far-sighted, integrating, inclusive, and creative vision—regarding a long-term, large-scale project for promoting public engagement with laboratory science. There is no single large museum, anywhere in the world, dedicated to the ways that modern laboratories and modern lives interpenetrate. But such a museum could exist.
    Imagine an art exhibit dedicated to past and present laboratory signage from around the world. This would range from the mundane (ladies’ room, no smoking) to the exotic (safety signs from non-western medical laboratories, staff cartoons). These would be displayed alongside commissioned artworks in a variety of media that engage in a dialogue with the signs and with the visitor. One wall in the gallery would trace the evolution and spread of the biohazard symbol from its development at Dow Chemical in the 1960s up to its current status as a global and seemingly fixed cultural icon without a past.
    Imagine a costume gallery dedicated to the varieties of laboratory couture, from the humble lab coat to the elaborate ‘space suits’ used by scientists who work with the most virulent pathogens on earth. There would be a dress-up corner where both adults and children could try on these fascinating suits (with the help of staff or volunteers), and a craft corner where children could decorate their own lab coats to bring home. One wall of the gallery would feature safety goggles of every description, from labs all across the world. Another wall would have work shoes, booties, and gloves. Near the gloves would be a series of Wii-style multimedia interactives encouraging visitors to try manipulating objects and completing simple tasks while wearing virtual lab gloves of different constructions. Or maybe even full virtual suits.
    Including an art gallery and a costume gallery in a museum of laboratory science is a way to disrupt visitors’ preconceived ideas of laboratories as well as of science museums. What is more important is that the strategy also opens up a space for discussing risk and danger. These two persistent concerns surrounding laboratory science, and especially biomedical science, are difficult to approach in a way that does not put both laboratory staff and members of the public on a defensive footing. After all, one of the primary ways infectious disease laboratories (so-called ‘bioterror labs’) manage risk and danger is by excluding the public from the lab via a series of concentric rings of increasingly tight high-tech security. The goal is, ironically, to make the lab at the centre completely impenetrable to the public. And to those outside that ostensibly terror-proof bunker, the faith that this expensive, secretive, potentially dangerous laboratory work is ultimately going to protect us becomes a faith increasingly difficult to sustain.
    The only non-violent way to break down the wall between lab and world is to bring the lab into a safe, dedicated public space—a museum—one piece at a time. This is why ordinary objects matter. The costumes and cues that laboratory scientists use to protect themselves from the dirt and danger of working with living organisms—the boots, the suits, the gloves, the signs—contrast starkly with the high fences, high-tech surveillance systems, and elaborate identity verification used to insulate the lab from the public. Imagine a space that encouraged both adults and children to confront the tools of bioterror as if they were something to play with, not to fear.
    Imagine a series of furniture galleries and ‘period’ rooms, modeled after the British Galleries at the V&A, or the Geffrye Museum of the Home—except about lab spaces rather than living spaces. These galleries would represent the many ways medical and biological laboratories have been outfitted, across time and around the world, and the wide variety of purposes they have served. Certain rooms and display cases would focus on the development of now-standard equipment, such as eyewash stations, pipettes, and sharps bins. Other rooms and cases would feature the non-technical and uniquely local elements found in every lab, ranging from telephones to pencils to coffee cups. Other rooms would have reconstructions of laboratory benches and entire laboratories, both past and present. For many visitors, it would be the only glimpse of the interior of a laboratory they have ever seen, except on screen.
    Imagine that various parts of these furniture galleries would be a living history museum, where volunteers, staff, and professional actors trained in both present and past laboratory technique would field visitors’ questions about any aspect of lab life and demonstrate standard techniques. Confronted with the down-to-earth routines of laboratory work, visitors would begin to see how little room there is in an actual laboratory for a character like Dr. Frankenstein.
    The furniture galleries would also include instruments in cases. Some lab instruments are unique, irreplaceable, or fragile, and need to be displayed like static sculptures. There are many effective and creative ways to do that well. More than a few lab instruments, however, are standard equipment built to function reliably day after day in demanding conditions, and that opens up entirely new possibilities for public engagement.
    Imagine a series of display cases containing functioning laboratory centrifuges of different sizes, each whirring away at a different pitch, and starting and stopping at different times. The sound of each centrifuge would be amplified, modulated, and piped into the room over speakers or wireless headphones. Living Laboratory would commission composers to write pieces of music for this one of a kind instrument. It would commission dancers to dance with the centrifuges.
    Imagine that Living Laboratory cafés would serve tea and coffee in beakers, and croissants and cakes on petri dishes.
    Imagine a sushi bar where all the waiters are lab scientists who do research on fish anatomy and physiology.
    Imagine a fine restaurant called Claude Bernard, after the great nineteenth-century French physiologist who articulated the direct link between vivisection and the life sciences in one unforgettable sentence: ‘If a comparison were required to express my idea of the science of life, I should say that it is a superb and dazzlingly lighted ball which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen.’ One is tempted to say this restaurant should serve only red wine.
    Imagine a pub with fermentation tanks for beer placed alongside fermentation tanks for penicillin, and bartenders who can explain the difference. Imagine all the beer is served in graduated cylinders.
    Imagine a gallery about what the laboratory has done to birth, from the pill to test-tube babies to genetic testing to IVF.
    Imagine a theater.
    Imagine a cinema.
    Imagine a series of galleries about different types of animal cell (prokaryotic, eukaryotic, stem, nerve, sperm, blood etc) that combines sculpture, multimedia, molecular models, music, and dance. A dozen different small thriving hot jam-packed dance clubs. Inside a museum.
    Imagine a soaring cathedral-like central courtyard where visitors wander contemplatively among works of art and laboratory instruments that invoke the uses and abuses of animals (humans included) in laboratories. Imagine this sacred space contains a memorial fountain or altar where visitors can offer up their own prayers and offerings to the animals that research scientists have sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice, in the pursuit of new knowledge and new treatments.
    Imagine further that this space were dominated by an impossibly beautiful pipe organ with keys made from African ivory and pipes made from the bones and horns of endangered or extinct animals, including dinosaurs. We might call her Lovely Bones. Hundreds of artists—with a preference for those who live in or near each animal’s native habitat—would be commissioned to transform one of the horns or bones into an individual work of art that also functioned as a working part of the complete organ. The artists’ own stories about animals and about their own piece of the organ would be recorded and incorporated into the space. We would invite organists to give concerts on Lovely Bones, composers to write new organ works for her, and dancers to engage with the space, the music, the objects, the fountain, the visitors, and the absent animals.
    Imagine that Living Laboratory allowed individuals to reserve a small separate chapel in one corner of this memorial space, for no fee, for memorial services for deceased companion animals.
    Imagine another series of rooms dedicated specifically to decay and death, not as the negation of life but as what allows life to go on living. This would include visually arresting time-lapse photography of animal decomposition—as in a segment from the BBC series Planet Earth showing a dead whale at the bottom of the ocean being gradually reduced to bones by crabs and other scavengers. Similar footage of a variety of different animals, carefully done, would be incorporated into a series of interactive exhibits for older children and adults, in which the process of decay and renewal could be sped up, slowed down, or reversed by turning a dial. Objects on display in this gallery would include artificial limbs (for both humans and animals), vitamins and medicines claiming to enhance longevity, and mummies. The last room would contain cryogenic freezers, which represent at once a hubristic denial of death and an extraordinary faith in the future of medical science and technology. Is that faith misplaced? That is a question that Living Laboratory would pose to its visitors, in the full conviction that, as in any question of faith, each visitor must find his or her own answer.
    Imagine a sustained focus, throughout all the galleries of the museum, on the way that laboratory science is shot through with faith: faith in science and technology, but also faith in medicine, nature, the sacred, humanity, God, living. A web of diverse individual faiths—not just the faith of scientists, but the faith of each person whose life is shaped by work done inside laboratories—is what sustains laboratory science.
    That, above all, is the heart of this vision: that a museum of laboratory science must think of itself as a Hagia Sophia—an enormous protected space where people of different faiths congregate in order to confront the problems and promises that we all face. Together.

  3. Would you mind if I quote a several of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources returning to your blog: I most certainly will aslo make certain to give you the appropriate anchor text hyperlink using your website title: Battersea Power Station & Olympics 2012 – Legacy, Land Grabs and Liberties | The Spectacle Blog. Please let me know if this is ok with you. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *