Luke Jerram recreates coronavirus in the form of a glass sculpture

British artist Luke Jerram uses the technique of glass microbiology to sculpt Coronavirus - COVID-19, a tribute to medical researchers and health officers working across the world.

by Dilpreet Bhullar Published on : Apr 07, 2020

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, and creativity in general, besides sharing the commonality of characteristic set C, has paved the way for collective efforts led by the people from all walks of life to contain the further spread of the virus. In a similar vein, British artist Luke Jerram’s latest glass sculpture titled Coronavirus – COVID-19 runs 23 cm in diameter, which makes it approximately two million times larger than the actual size of the novel coronavirus.

In a tribute to global health research teams and medical doctors who are working round the clock to fight the pandemic, the glass sculpture was commissioned by the Duke University School of Engineering in the United States eight weeks before the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic crisis.

The proceeds from this glass model will be given to independent medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is assisting the developing nations combat the rising COVID-19 pandemic challenge. 

01 min watch Coronavirus - COVID-19 film | Coronavirus – COVID-19 | Luke Jerram | STIRworld
Coronavirus - COVID-19 film Video Credit: Courtesy of Luke Jerram

Jerram describes the glass sculpture saying, “This artwork is a tribute to the scientists and medical teams who are working collaboratively across the world to try to slow the spread of the virus. It is vital we attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus by working together globally, so our health services can manage this pandemic. Helping to communicate the form of the virus to the public, the artwork has been created as an alternative representation to the artificially coloured imagery received through the media. In fact, viruses have no colour as they are smaller than the wavelength of light”.

Since the time Jerram developed glass microbiology in 2004, his artistic practice is devoted to the stark bearings diseases such as Swine Flu, Ebola, Smallpox and HIV have on the global population. The artworks are a careful subversion of the popular representation around the virus as colourful in nature. Rendered in colourless glass, the sculptures stand as a piece of beauty antithetical to their life-threatening repercussion.

Speaking with STIR, Jerram explains how he developed the glass microbiology. “Because I am colour blind, I am interested in how we see the world and in exploring the edges of perception. While doing my early research, I was made to discover that viruses, since they are smaller than the wavelength of light, are colourless. The transparent and colourless glassworks reverse the methods of artificial colouring done for scientific understanding, which raises the curiosity around the virus.”

Swine Flu’s detail | Coronavirus – COVID-19 | Luke Jerram | STIRworld
Swine Flu’s detail Image Credit: Courtesy of Luke Jerram

The scientists officially approve the technical drawings of the sculptures before they are put into practice. Technology and human collaboration are an integral part of Jerram’s art practice. To help him achieve what he has envisioned as an artist, Jerram states, “It helps a great deal. With my basic understanding of engineering I can solve many problems, and also have conversations with engineers and specialists to realise my artworks.”

T4 bacteriophage | Coronavirus – COVID-19 | Luke Jerram | STIRworld
T4 bacteriophage Image Credit: Courtesy of Luke Jerram

When the artworks translate the grim reality of the human existence to the realm of creativity, Jerram gauges the audience’s response when he says, “I think many people appreciate these works including scientists and non-specialists. The artworks help the public understand and visualise what is otherwise invisible.”

E.coli | Coronavirus – COVID-19 | Luke Jerram | STIRworld
E.colI Image Credit: Courtesy of Luke Jerram

The glass sculptures have regularly been featured in the leading magazine and journal dedicated to medical science including The Lancet, >Scientific American, British Medical Journal, Nature Magazine, and even available with the museum collections in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City; Wellcome Collection, London and the Museum of Glass, Shanghai.

Smallpox, Untitled Future Mutation, HIV Virus Sculptures | Coronavirus – COVID-19 | Luke Jerram | STIRworld
Smallpox, Untitled Future Mutation, HIV Virus Sculptures Image Credit: Courtesy of Luke Jerram

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