Research Projects

Representing biology as process, AHRC Award

Arts and Humanities Research Council Award 2017-2020 – the grant application for the project "Representing biology as process" was successfully funded. The project, based at the University of Exeter, will be led by Prof. John Duprè (Egenis), with Dr. Gemma Anderson (Egenis and Living Systems Institute) and Prof. James Wakefield (BioSciences, LSI) as co-investigators. The project will run for three years until 2020.

Updates on the project will be published on The Big Draw website, where it was introduced.

You can also download a project summary here.

Collaborating with 3C in G at Imperial College

I will be collaborating with mathematicians Professor Alessio Corti and Professor Tom Coates (and team) at Imperial College London on the 3C in G project (2016-2021) 'Classification, Computation, and Construction: New Methods in Geometry'

3G in C logo

Cornwall Morphology and Drawing Centre

Isomorphologhy shapes


Isomorphologhy shapes


Artist in Residence at Imperial College

Imperial College Link

Collaboration with Imperial College Mathematics Department

Research Statement

My research is about drawing as a way of knowing and about knowing about drawing as a way of knowing.

I work with the theme of Morphology and Drawing as parallel dynamic processes, exploring intuitive and experimental drawing methodologies. My key questions are about: how can we understand form and formative processes through drawing And, what contribution can the artist make – representationally, analytically, in terms of interpretation and critique– to the advancement of knowledge of the natural world through drawing, especially drawing effected in collaboration with scientific practices and instrumentation.

Historically, drawing constituted a critical step in both artistic and scientific research: the step from ambiguous data to stable facts. Today, drawing still presents strategies for discovering, experiencing and ordering that constitute a unique and powerful way of knowing.

Drawing has the power to mediate, translating observation and understanding of the world through an interaction between perception and reflection. While drawing may begin from a concrete object, it can also facilitate the formation of an idea apart from any object, understood that is, as thought itself.

As an artist and PhD candidate, my practice places artistic research in a scientific context through collaborations with scientists and institutions. This interdisciplinary exchange, led by drawing and dialogue, stimulates questions about ways to integrate scientific research, museum and laboratory practices into artistic practice and modes of display.

Inspired by the Bauhaus culture of art and science, my practice works to promote collaborative drawing projects. I work with and develop a network of drawing practitioners including mathematicians, artists, geologists, zoologists and choreographers at Imperial College, the Natural History Museum, Falmouth University, University College London and the University of Exeter in Cornwall.

With drawing as a common language and way of knowing, these collaborations aim to transcend the boundaries of art and science and to open a shared epistemic space across disciplines. This work is shared through regular practice led events including exhibitions, lectures, workshops, discussions and field trips.

For further information please see CV and NEWS.

People I collaborate with:

Chiara Ambrosio
Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science, University College London

Dorothy Buck
Topologist and Biomathematician, Imperial College London

Gavin Broad
Senior Curator in Entomology, The Natural History Museum London

Alessio Corti
Algebraic Geometer, Imperial College London

Tom Coates
Geometer, Imperial College London

Previous Research Projects

PhD Practise

Jerwood Drawing Residency

Wellcome Trust Arts Award 'Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists'

Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists’ is unique in Art History as the first series of portraits to mix psychiatrists and psychiatric patients indiscriminately in one collection (Jordanova, Schupbach 2010). These portraits could not have been made a hundred years ago at the Bethlem Royal Hospital but since then psychiatric knowledge and practice have advanced.

'This collaboration between Artist Gemma Anderson and Forensic Psychiatrist Dr.Tim McInerny (Bethlem Royal Hospital), enabled the artist to enter each individuals environment; The Bethlem Royal Hospital, The Maudsley, London Health centres and schools and even individuals homes. In this series of fourteen life-size etched portraits, the individual is identified, not by name and occupation, but visually, by their biographies and internal personal lives. Public and private self are united through Andersons curiosity and compassion; as her probing of inner worlds, as bizarre and entangled for the practitioners as the patients, links all the portraits together. The etchings explore medical ‘phenomena’ such as neuroses, phobias, traumas, disability, disease and injury. These portraits are ‘medical’ in a special and profound sense that notions of medicalization cannot capture.

Anderson discovered that psychiatrists and patients share more than their wish for recovery, they have lives and feelings which overlap. Doctor and patient took part in the same process where Anderson positively invited the sitters to suggest objects and associations they found important to their sense of self and health. This process relies on the conversations and trust between Anderson and the sitter. This active involvement in their self-definition dates the portraits to the early days of Web 2.0 communications, when individuals with no special power could display themselves to the world as they wished to be seen. Each portrait, bravely drawn from life directly onto the copper plate incorporates relevant objects, medicinal plants and zoological specimens drawn from the collections of the Grant Museum UCL, The Royal College of Physicians, Kew Gardens and the Natural History Museum, London.

At the centre of each portrait is a face. Around that point, a world of objects floats, sprouts, jostles, plays hide-and-seek. Mushrooms form an acrobatic tower to peer over one subject’s shoulder; a seahorse nestles inside the belly of a dogfish, like a foetus, a treble clef, the f-hole of a violin- nature’s ampersand. These objects repeat and then transform, cells become scales become butterfly wings become pills; veins become nerves become muscle fibre become wrinkles. Natures patterns find a deep echo in the artist’s imagination.

These portraits are motivated by Anderson’s first hand experience of psychiatric hospitals, when her grandmother was admitted in 2004, and her desire to explore identity through narrative imagery. Anderson and McInerny wished to move away from the written representation of mental illness and the concept that the connection between psychiatrist and patient is mostly verbal. Instead, we envisaged a series of portraits that might turn the tables on the people who view them; contemplating these pictures, we may recognise ourselves too.