Ten artists to create artworks for global research project mapping the human body

Human Cell Atlas explored through art science collaboration

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The Human Cell Atlas (HCA) global initiative to map every cell type in the body, has launched its One Cell at a Time arts and community project taking place in cities across England. Funded by Wellcome, One Cell at a Time is led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, with collaborations across Cambridge, London, Newcastle and Oxford. Within this, ten artists have been commissioned to explore the areas where art and science meet.

With the aim of charting the trillions of cells in the body, the Human Cell Atlas could transform our understanding of health and disease, and revolutionise the way illnesses are diagnosed and treated.

As part of their ambition to engage the public with the Human Cell Atlas, the One Cell at a Time team brings one community of artists and creatives into another community of biologists, clinicians, technologists, physicists, computational scientists, software engineers and mathematicians. Together, they will explore the places where art and science connect and merge.

The commissioned artworks will then be exhibited in participating cities in the UK to help inspire public connection with the project.

“The Human Cell Atlas project is a revolutionary global research initiative that could transform the lives of every single one of us. So, with One Cell at a Time, we want to connect the public to the enormity and wonder of that. By creating a place where art and science intersect we can also encourage a new way of thinking about the human body and our own health and wellbeing.”

Dr Suzy O’Hara, One Cell at a Time project curator

The first commissioned piece is an artist film entitled, From Flesh to Data (The Story of the Human Cell Atlas). It is a collaboration between artists Dr Esther Teichmann and Christopher Stewart with a specially commissioned score from Deirdre Gribbin. The film will explore the themes of language, the invisible, the unknown, and imagination in relationship to the Human Cell Atlas. The film looks at the interconnected histories of technologies of seeing, scientific discovery and our relationship to our own bodies.

“In total, we have ten artists commissioned to create new artworks. In a year like 2020 we’re delighted to be able to support the arts sector in this way. Seven of those artists are also embedded with community groups in Cambridge, London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Oxford. Together they will co-develop artistic interpretations and responses which explore what it means to be ‘normal’.”

Dr Suzy O’Hara, One Cell at a Time project curator

Across each of the four cities, seven artists will create art and science experiences for the public to get involved with and explore, focusing on two questions: “What is it to be normal?” and “What influences peoples’ value and trust in research involving tissue donation and open access data?”


  • Dance and moving image artist Anna Macdonald will create a performance piece entitled Performing Normality: A Way of Doing Things which will explore what we mean by ‘normal’ when it comes to movement. During the project, people will be asked to enact and perform their way of doing things and share it with other people. This performance piece will be used to create an extraordinary exhibition on range of movement, delivered in partnership with Cambridge Junction.


  • International duo Baum & Leahy will create an immersive 3D map of the intricate landscapes of our guts, our ‘second brain’, to discover a world of complex cellular interactions. Encompass: Navigating New Norms will explore the landscape of our gut and how we relate to the world of our cells by overlaying 3D images of cells with memories and emotions.


  • Stacey Pitsillides and Holly Standing’s commission entitled Embodying Normality: Donate my Body, Bequeath my Data will explore post-death rituals, with a particular focus on how tissue and organ donation can become a gift to the next generation. It will also examine how the digital age has presented new opportunities and challenges when it comes to someone’s personal data after death.


  • Paul Smith and Vicky Isley work in the artistic collaboration known as boredomresearch. Together they encourage meaningful connections between art, science and society. With their commission Speculative Normality: Call of the Silent Cell they will create an animation inspired by cell behaviour in the body, delivered in partnership with Fusion Arts.

The One Cell at a Time project will also include a small circulation of original ‘zines’ – small-run publications which fuse art, photography and creative writing. Artist Dominic Smith will use digital art, historical photographic and original material generated throughout the project to create a zine which will be available as a printed publication and as an online magazine.

“The Human Cell Atlas is a global initiative that could transform healthcare for everyone and we are delighted to be exploring our research with artists. By sharing ideas and our discoveries around cells, these art commissions can deepen our understanding of what it is to be normal, and help improve the value and trust people place in research.”

Dr Sarah Teichmann, Head of Cellular Genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and co-Chair of the Human Cell Atlas Organising Committee

All the commissioned works can be seen in Autumn 2021 in a touring exhibition, find out more by visiting the project website.

A supporting learning and participation programme will engage schools, children and young adults in competitions and challenges in partnership with the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, and Little Inventors.

More information

Selected websites

  • Human Cell Atlas

    The Human Cell Atlas (HCA) is an international collaborative consortium which is creating comprehensive reference maps of all human cells—the fundamental units of life—as a basis for understanding human health and for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating disease. The HCA will impact every aspect of biology and medicine, propelling translational discoveries and applications and ultimately leading to a new era of precision medicine.

    The HCA was co-founded in 2016 by Dr Sarah Teichmann at the Wellcome Sanger Institute (UK) and Dr Aviv Regev, then at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (USA). A truly global initiative, there are now more than 2,000 HCA members, from 75 countries around the world.

  • One Cell at a Time

    ‘One Cell at a Time’ is an ambitious programme of public engagement activities within the Human Cell Atlas, bringing together arts and communities, patients and researchers. It aims to deepen public understanding of the revolutionary impact the HCA will have on our understanding of the human body.

    Funded by Wellcome and led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, One Cell at a Time will run a series of events, artist commissions and creative workshops to connect communities with artists and scientists located across four areas of England: Cambridge, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, London and Oxford. Other partners include EMBL-EBI, University of Cambridge, Newcastle University, King’s College London and the University of Oxford.

    One Cell at a Time will explore fundamental questions such as “What does it mean to be normal?” and “What influences peoples’ value and trust in research involving tissue donation and open access data?”

  • Wellcome Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Sanger Institute is a world leading genomics research centre. We undertake large-scale research that forms the foundations of knowledge in biology and medicine. We are open and collaborative; our data, results, tools and technologies are shared across the globe to advance science. Our ambition is vast – we take on projects that are not possible anywhere else. We use the power of genome sequencing to understand and harness the information in DNA. Funded by Wellcome, we have the freedom and support to push the boundaries of genomics. Our findings are used to improve health and to understand life on Earth. Find out more at or follow us on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and on our Blog.

  • Wellcome

    Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.