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Call and Response

Communication, identity and memory: exploring the parallels between developmental biology and human perception.

Call & Response1  Mouse cochlea: sensory hair cells responsible for sound perception and modulation are stained in green; blue: cell nuclei  

Communication is something we tend to take for granted – but is central to our existence as human beings. We increasingly place greater emphasis on communicating visually through images in new media, but tend to forget the more haptic senses of hearing and touch. Call and Response is a collaboration between artist Tabatha Andrews and development biologist Professor Andrea Streit exploring communication, identity and memory in relation to the sense of hearing and ear development. This involves researching the earliest manifestations of the senses through scientific research, sculpture, sound, drawing and workshop-based practice. 

Culture is the matrix, or context in which stem cells - and humans - are nourished; if we alter this environment we can affect behaviour, altering identities and sense of self. Conversely, how can we ‘know’ or ‘understand’ a cell that is in vitro and out of context? The project team are exploring a state of in-betweenness and instability where the cell is neither itself nor ‘something else’, and where human perceptions of self and memories evolve through experience and time. 

In the adult body, most cells are highly specialised – for example in the ear, special sensory cells are responsible for sound and balance perception and for transformation of this information into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Yet, during development they come from precursors that have the potential to give rise to any other cell in any sense organs. The Streit lab investigates how and when cells ‘know who they are’, how constant cross talk between them influences this process and how they retain the memory of their identity – or whether this memory can be wiped out to bring them back to a ‘younger’ stage.  

Call & Response6  Image taken from the first Call and Response workshop     

The first Call and Response workshop explored interference in human and cell communication, using physical movement, sound and gesture before moving to an exploration of drawing and sensory deprivation. Andrea and Tabatha are currently considering drawing as notation or score for developmental processes, with a view to developing their ideas about hearing, communication and memory through physical movement, model making and sound. Their research is extending into pedagogy, philosophy, synaesthesia, and psychoacoustics. 

Call & Response1Inner ear of a whale, photographed by Tabatha Andrews     

Project team

Professor Andrea Streit- academic lead

Andrea Streit is a leading scientist in ear developmental biology. Her research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that define ear progenitors, and how this knowledge can be used for repair of degenerating cells in the damaged or ageing ear. She is Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the Centre for Craniofacial & Regenerative Biology at King’s Dental Institute.

Tabatha Andrews  - artistic lead

Tabatha Andrews has made award-winning work on the theme of memory and sensory perception, reordering the sensory hierarchy in order to create new and transformational experience. Her ground-breaking work ‘The Dispensary’ with Dementia patients at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, as well as previous projects exploring sensory deprivation, disorientation, communication, and acoustics, creates an exciting area of common ground with the Streit Lab.  

Call & Response4  Listening Objects 2014 by Tabatha Andrews

Call and Response is a collaboration between King's College London's Department of Craniofacial Development & Stem Cell Biology and Tabatha Andrews, brokered and supported by the Cultural Institute at King’s.

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