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An Experiment on a Cloud in an Airpump

At the opening of the festival the cast of EMERGE will stage a tableau vivant or ‘living picture’ based on Joseph Wright of Derby’s 1768 painting An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump, with each of the artists and scholars taking the role of one of the figures depicted in this classic painting of science on public display. Historical painter Rupert Nesbit will spend the rest of the evening creating a new image, with Karolina Sobecka’s air pump experiment Cloud Services at the center: An Experiment on a Cloud in an Air Pump. The original painting holds central importance in the history and sociology of science as an image that represents key figures and ideas about how knowledge is produced through scientific experimentation. The men, women and children that watch and bear witness to the experiment embody social, gender and class roles that informed Mary Shelley in her fictionalization of trends present in the science of her day—trends that continue to structure science today. This theatrical performance and painting will explore new subject positions, forms of social authority, gender expression, and divisions between expert and audience that are emerging as modern distinctions between the arts, sciences and technology begin to blur in the 21st century.

Monstrosity, by Rupert Nesbitt, courtesy of the artist