stem-cell-art

A man takes a closer look at artwork in the Perceptions of Promise exhibit at Calgary's Glenbow Museum on Monday. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

A new exhibit at Calgary's Glenbow Museum allows the public to view the use of embryonic stem cells in regenerative medicine and therapeutic cloning with an artistic eye.

Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art is aimed at advancing the heated discussion on stem-cell research.

Included in the multimedia exhibit are a sculpture made from scans of human embryos, a tent with images of human cells and drawings of one of the artists' chromosomes.

The idea for the exhibition began last year with a gathering of artists, scientists and bioethicists like Tim Caulfield, research director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, who, with his brother Sean, organized the exhibition.

'This exhibition isn't about taking sides in the stem-cell debate, it's about creating a place for reflection.' —Sean Caulfield

"We've got to appreciate the role and impact of pop culture in this whole process," said Caulfield.

"You have those who're against stem-cell research taking on extreme ideas like reproductive cloning, 'clone armies' and the idea that we're going to have half-humans and half-animal creatures developed," he said.

"Then on the side of those who support stem-cell research — those who want to garner public policy support for the field — almost out of necessity, [they] are using hype in their presentations of the promise of stem-cell research."

Sean Caulfield, a printmaking professor, said the public won't be disappointed.

"One of the artists involved in this exhibition was at a workshop where she learnt that people were taking stem cells from liposuction and turning them into facial cream," he said. "So she made a figurative sculpture out of CT scans and carved the body open, as though the human is being harvested.

"This exhibition isn't about taking sides in the stem-cell debate, it's about creating a place for reflection."

The information in the Glenbow exhibit isn't about offering opinions or judgments.

"What's so interesting about this project is it really doesn't take a position on some of these controversies, but rather is merely educational and kind of open in how it engages with the subject matter," said Kirstin Evenden, president and CEO of the Glenbow Museum.

"The artists have really spent a lot of time interacting with the scientists, learning about some of the challenges around the science of stem-cell research and what it actually involves, scientifically, biologically, and what the implications for research are long term," she said.

The exhibit will run until March 20 and Caulfield said it could be taken on the road and shown at other venues.