Funny farm's lesson in ethics

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Lights down. Music on. The beat starts up, with an irresistible disco pounding. And a cow saunters out and steps on to an electronic dance mat.

Inviting cows to try out dance mats is not standard scientific practice.

But a new exhibition is using boogying bovines as a method of analysing the ethical implications of agricultural technology.

Cowboard, a film depicting baffled cows strutting their funky stuff, forms part of Wonderful, an innovative exhibition at L-Shed, Bristol's industrial museum. Artists have collaborated with leading scientists to produce installations that challenge scientific assumptions.

Clare Cumberlidge, curator, said: "The exhibition has to work as art, with the capacity to shift your perceptions. But we also want people to have a greater understanding of the decisions scientists face. It's like a weird, slightly surreal scientific lecture."

Cowboard is based on animal-behaviour research by Bryan Jones, of the Roslin Institute where Dolly the sheep was cloned in Edinburgh. The aim is for the audience to question the acceptable limits of technological use with agricultural animals.

An installation entitled Choice invites visitors to take home a packet of Himalayan Balsam seeds. The plant, not native to Britain, is traditionally seen as a pest. But botanist Alicia Prowse insists that it does not pose any real danger to other plantlife. Working with Dr Prowse, artist Kerry Morrison will offer visitors the choice to plant, discard or keep the seeds, based on the information they are presented with.

Ms Morrison said: "It's all about actions having consequences. And it's about globalisation. We're living in a cosmopolitan society. Shouldn't our plants reflect that? Science and art are both about everyday life."

And, she adds, the seed packets have another, less obvious value: "These are limited-edition artworks. I'd put mine up on the wall."

Wonderful will run from February 21 to March 21, and is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and the Wellcome Trust.

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