'Mad cow disease' explored in forthcoming exhibition

In the first ever exhibition in an art gallery to investigate bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its impact, Turner Prize nominee Roger Hiorns curates a section of 'History Is Now: 7 artists take on Britain' at the Hayward Gallery (10 Feb-26 April 2015).

Supported by a People Award from the Wellcome Trust, Hiorns provides an artistic exploration of the disease and its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), looking at how these crises arose and key milestones in their developments, as well as their lasting impact. He has worked with scientists to investigate BSE and vCJD and to curate an exhibition that incorporates biomedicine, agriculture, animal husbandry, food production and consumption.

The exhibition itself is multi-layered, displaying artworks from the time of the crisis, such as Gustav Metzger's 'Mad Cow Slide Talk' (1996) and Damien Hirst's 'Out of Sight. Out of Mind.' (1991), and cultural artefacts - excerpts from a cattle passport, scientific equipment and objects related to BSE research, film and documentary media clips, and official committee reports - alongside newly produced objects, including a 3D-printed model of the infectious prion protein. The exhibition is structured around a timeline charting the history, development and impact of the diseases, in addition to other points that the artist found of interest.

Hiorns pulls together a diverse range of material, forming a collage that tells the remarkable story of the BSE crisis and its lasting effects, noting that the experience marked a change in public attitudes towards governing bodies. He draws parallels between historical and more contemporary prion-related diseases (such as scrapie and chronic wasting disease) and the media or public responses to them, highlighting what these situations reveal about society and its structures.

"I was a student at the time when the press revealed the crisis of BSE and its link to vCJD," says Hiorns. "Being part of an at-risk generation created an unusual and tense social environment where a generation found themselves connected by a collective sense of medical potential and dread.

"Studying the crisis in finer detail over the last year, some 20 years on, has revealed to me the troubling - and pervasively lasting - effect these two brain diseases have had on our past, and on the future of international medical science, politics, culture and the wider society. It feels like the time is right for a reassessment."

The exhibition makes up one section of 'History Is Now: 7 artists take on Britain' (10 Feb-26 April 2015) at the Hayward Gallery, which will offer new perspectives on the nation’s recent past in the lead up to this year's general election. Six other artists are participating as guest curators - John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth, and Jane and Louise Wilson - and the projects will collectively reflect upon pivotal periods in British history from 1945 to the present day. The exhibition is part of Southbank Centre's Changing Britain 1945-2015 festival, running from 30 January to 9 May 2015.

Dr Cliff Lauson, Hayward Gallery Curator, explained: "History is Now will bring together original and unexpected groupings of objects that will shed new light on how we remember and reconsider our recent past. Roger Hiorns has used this opportunity to create a bold and unprecedented examination of a dark episode in recent British history; the story of BSE is a compelling and unsettling narrative that deserves to be told."


Emily Philippou

Media Manager

Notes for editors

About Changing Britain 1945-2015

Changing Britain 1945-2015 begins with a series of BBC Concert Orchestra concerts accompanied by supporting programme on 30 January, 7 February and 22 March, and a major exhibition, History is Now: Seven Artists Take On Britain in the Hayward Gallery from 10 February to 26 April. The festival will build up to three concentrated festival weekends of talks and debates (18-19 April, 25-26 April and 2-4 May) ahead of the General Election on 7 May. Following the election, on 9 May, there will be a day devoted to artists and audiences, who will give a message to the new government about the importance of creativity, including the London Sinfonietta, who will perform two sets of newly commissioned works co-curated by Matthew Herbert and the Royal Philharmonic Society.

About Hayward Gallery

Hayward Gallery has a long history of presenting work by the world's most adventurous and innovative artists. Opened by Her Majesty, The Queen in 1968, the gallery is one of the few remaining buildings of its style. It was designed by a group of young architects, including Dennis Crompton, Warren Chalk and Ron Herron. Hayward Gallery is named after the late Sir Isaac Hayward, the former leader of the London County Council.

Hayward Gallery has gained an international reputation for staging major solo shows by both emerging and established artists and dynamic group exhibitions in its 46 year history. Key exhibitions throughout Hayward Gallery’s history have included those by Martin Creed, Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Jeremy Deller, Anish Kapoor, Rene Magritte, Frances Bacon and David Shrigley, as well as influential group exhibitions such as Africa Remix, Light Show, The Human Factor and Psycho Buildings.

About the Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre, occupying a 21-acre site that sits in the midst of London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. The site has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Southbank Centre is home to the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery as well as The Saison Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection.  

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.

Our investment portfolio gives us the independence to support such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, research that established front-line drugs for malaria, and Wellcome Collection, our free venue for the incurably curious that explores medicine, life and art.