Hooked - understanding addiction through art

Addiction is the inaugural topic for a new gallery exploring science through art

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When does enjoyment tip over into addiction - and is this an individual problem or one that society as a whole is responsible for? These and others are the questions posed by the inaugural exhibition, Hooked, at Science Gallery London.

The gallery commissions artists to explore a scientific topic, in this case addiction, through various creative means. A full size sugar table, laid with tea cups; a beaded curtain made from gold rings; a video of a mouth playing forwards and rewinding. 

The exhibition is curated by Hannah Redler-Hawes, and the exhibits are colourful, eye catching, and provocative. They are all accompanied by detailed panels explaining aspects of addiction, its causes and treatments, as befits the world class scientific credentials of the gallery’s director, neuroscientist Dr Daniel Glaser. Indeed, Science Gallery London is part of Kings College London, on whose campus the gallery sits, and is modelled on the successful Science Gallery Dublin, part of Trinity College Dublin.

The gallery is not just a series of static shows, but aims to integrate into the diverse community of Southwark. It is situated in the shadow of The Shard, the UK’s tallest building, and a symbol of regeneration (and gentrification) in South London. I know this area well, as I was local councillor for the London Bridge area up until this year, and indeed should declare a conflict of interest, as I supported this application through the planning process.

Local engagement is just beginning, but they have already assembled a young leaders team who will curate an upcoming weekend aimed at hard to reach groups. For me, this work is critical to the gallery’s success. 

In the past, science and art informed and supported each other, and great polymaths such as Leonardo would not have recognised the divisions between disciplines that we see today. By inviting artists to explore the scientific and societal facets of tangible topics such as addiction, Science Gallery London delivers a visually satisfying and intellectually stimulating show. 

If Dr Glaser and his team can bring this fusion of art and science to the local community, and not just to the usual gallery-going public, they will create real impact where it is needed most, and foster the next generation of researchers and artists. I will be supporting from the sidelines and watching with interest. 

Hooked is showing at Science Gallery London, Great Maze Pond, London SE1 9GU, until 6th January 2019 and is free to visit.

Ben Johnson

Magazine Editor, Nature Medicine, Springer Nature

I trained as a virologist, starting with an undergraduate degree in virology from the University of Warwick, UK. My PhD, in influenza virus genetics and immunoevasion, was from Public Health England and the University of Reading, UK, with Maria Zambon and Wendy Barclay. My research interests then moved to smallpox vaccines, viral ion channels and cell adhesion, while a postdoc at Imperial College London with Geoffrey Smith, FRS. I then joined open-access publisher BioMed Central in 2011 as an editor and then associate publisher and was Head of Communities & Engagement at Springer Nature from 2016, running the Nature Research Communities and other online engagement activities for researchers. I joined Nature Medicine in 2021, with responsibility for news and opinion content, and am based in the London office.