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Inspired science

July 2nd, 2019

Vija Celmins, Clouds, 1968. Graphite on paper, 34.9 x 47 cm. Private collection © Vija Celmins. Photo: courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Left brain vs. right brain; curiosity and imagination vs. analytics and logic – from an early age we’re taught that science and art are polar opposites. But for Dr. Mathieu Lupien, a distinguished cancer researcher serving as a Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. As part of his research into some of the triggers that cause cancer, Dr. Lupien brings his team of scientists for one-on-one tours of the AGO.

Dr. Lupien believes that helping them explore their own creativity can spark new ideas in the lab. Last week, he and 15 researchers and trainees visited the AGO for a tour of Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory. We sat down with Dr. Lupien to get his take on the relationship between art and science.

AGO: Can you tell us a bit about your team’s visits to the AGO?  
Dr. Lupien: Typically we come for an hour and spend the first thirty minutes roaming the gallery independently. Then we meet up and show each other our favourite artwork from that day. It’s interesting how each chosen piece relates to a trainee’s personality and interests. It usually reflects their analytical nature as scientists, as they focus on details and technology, but some focus on emotion too.

AGO: What inspired you to start taking your research students on tours?
Dr. Lupien: During my years as a graduate student, I remember going to London (UK) and visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum. I loved this notion of bringing together art from around the world and making it available for the local community to nourish themselves with these beautiful creations. It’s the same principle here in Toronto. I want my trainees to come and be nourished by the works of artists from around the world here at the AGO.

AGO: After two years of taking trainees on tours, is there a work that stands out?
Dr. Lupien: I remember coming into a gallery and walking into a room with a work by Norval Morrisseau on one wall and Jean-Paul Riopelle on another facing it. Having Canadian Art, traditional and modern, displayed together in harmony was mesmerizing. This relates to science as well. Current discoveries are all based on old discoveries that we’ve reassessed and reevaluated, resulting in a new perspective.

AGO: How do you see science and art living in harmony?
Dr. Lupien: In one word: creativity. As scientists, we are tasked to discover the unknown. To do this, we have to open our minds to all the possibilities and try new things. Good scientists take knowledge from left and right, and put it together into a whole new idea. Just like art and artists.

AGO: You saw the retrospective of Vija Celmins’s work today. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Lupien: The level of detail and expertise is captivating. I also love the notion that we get to see her life’s work, and how it started in one place and circled back to the same themes. Just like many scientists.

Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory is on now until August 5.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO MembersAGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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