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Image of the Week: Under Your Skin – Creutzfeldt-Jakob

13 Feb, 2015
Laurène Pijulet-Balmer, Under Your Skin Creutzfeldt-Jakob, 2013

Laurène Pijulet-Balmer, Under Your Skin Creutzfeldt-Jakob, 2013

This week sees the opening of ‘History is Now: 7 artists take on Britain’ at the Hayward Gallery, featuring the first ever art exhibition to explore the BSE crisis and how it affected the UK in the 1990s – and ever since.

One of the images featured in the exhibition is by Laurène Pijulet-Balmer, an illustrator whose series ‘Under Your Skin’ couples microscopic detail of diseases and viruses with classic fashion and cinematic illustration styles. The series was an attempt by Laurène, a self-confessed hypochondriac, to overcome her own fear of disease by finding the beauty in the shapes and colours revealed under a microscope, and then inserting them into a face, where they cannot be hidden away or ignored.

This image above is based on the human equivalent of BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), and others in the series include herpes, rotavirus and toxoplasmosis. Each illustration is the product of painstaking research into microscopic disease imaging, looking at different scales, colours, layers and shapes.

The idea for the series sprang from a design project that involved drawing virus-inspired shapes, based on Ernst Haeckel’s 1862 book “Art Forms from the Ocean” – one of the earliest examples of illustrative art and science. At the same time Laurène was working on a portrait for a friend when she began drawing cells instead of the face. She’s not sure why, but we’re glad she did!

She took this further, and later combined her work on viruses with illustrations of faces, as a way of presenting microorganisms in a more familiar light, and bringing them out of the unknown.

Image credit:  Laurène Pijulet-Balmer / Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.

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