Kira O'Reilly

Placement at University of Birmingham

Notes from the lab

Posted by Judi Coe on 4th April 2008

Excerpt from Notes from the lab: Kira O’Reilly

I began the residency with no fixed proposal other than wanting to ‘get my hands wet’ by working in the tissue culture lab, and to allow a project to emerge from activities within the school and my engagement with it. I was embedded within the culture and activities of the school, located in one of the laboratories where I was given a refresher in basic cell culture cultivation…

The idea was posited to tissue culture onto spiders’ webs, something I’ve been interested to try since the idea was put to me by Prof. Stuart Bunt at SymbioticA…

The spider silk tissue culture idea is an intriguing one, from both material scientific and metaphorical points of view. An array of associations and nascent possibilities emerge when considering combining biological materials; silks, species, cells types, also the issue of cell mobility – would the cells dismantle and alter the integrity of a web they were cultured onto? Would it be possible to encourage a web to be made in situ (in vitro) and then use it for tissue culturing purposes?

There is a significant and tantalising underlying strata of metaphorical and material interplays as both the spider and  its silk unravel in and out of culture and mythologies.

Dr Janet Smith and Dr Melissa Grant both became interested in the idea and began to make significant contributions both to my thinking and towards solving the practical difficulties I was having.

A series of experiments were made with varying results, many of them generating compelling and intriguing dialogues across and between our respective disciplines. These interdisciplinary conversations  were clearly as much a part of the work as the actual material processes.

Both Dr Smith and Dr Grant are makers in their own right in textiles, crafts and photography. The borders of our areas of knowledge were at times undone and other times reinforced, but always reassessed via the lab-based practices. The compelling nature of these exchanges was both inspiring and challenging and convinced me that further funding and resources are required to continue this research.