The University of Oxford’s Old Road Campus Research Building (ORCRB) and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art came together in “conversation” this month, at the ORCRB’s 2013 summer event. The annual champagne and strawberries reception, held on the 6th of June 2013, played host to the unveiling of a unique piece of public art, commissioned by the ORCRB building management committee in 2012.
ORCRB NDM Business Manager, Gary Strickland, explained that the piece of art was the result of a lengthy commissioning process, involving students at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. “Many new research buildings are required to include a percentage of the budget to be spent on a piece of public art – it was great exploring different ways to achieve this for the ORCRB,” Gary explains. “One of our board members at the time, the late Sue Holly, came up with the idea of engaging with the University’s artistic community, and so the decision was made to run a competition for graduate students at the Ruskin School. We gave the students a brief, to reflect our science and the translational research we do in this building, and Onyango Oketch was the clear winner.”
Onyango Oketch is a Clarendon Scholar, currently completing his fourth year of a DPhil at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, while residing at St John’s College. The sculpture, which is titled “Conversations”, attempts to capture the meeting points between cancer and medical science through a “tactile experience, which inspires warmth and contemplation”.
“It was difficult to produce a work of art that was not a direct model of what these researchers are doing, but rather an artistic representation of what the science means, philosophically,” Onyango said. “Working from the brief the research building gave us, I tried to come up with some kind of concept that would reflect not just the science but the people behind it, not just our cells, but us”.
“The organic nature of the wood provides the mood for the piece. It is made of 100-year-old English oak beams, which were reclaimed from a building on Kingsway in London. Once I found the right material, the battle began,” Onyango continued. “I am happy to be here – every artist looks forward to a situation where their work is seen by the public. I’m glad to see that people are touching it too – the piece encourages touch and interaction.”
Onyango Oketch’s “Conversations” will sit in the window of the ORCRB, where it will be accessible to those working in the building, and the public.