The mutability of memories and fates: Artistic exploration of Epigenetics and Stem Cells

A Panel discussion about Art the IES and the virtual first phase of the artist-in-residence programme

In May 2020, the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells selected Anna Dumitriu as their first artist-in-residence. Art the IES, the first artist-in-residence programme at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, explores the complexity of Epigenetics and Stem Cells with art. Such artscience processes live from the direct exchange between the artist and the scientist as well as from various formats to engage the audience. Due to pandemic precautions, the initial phase of the residency had to be shifted into the virtual realm with intense discussions taking place online while everyone awaits the possibility to finally work together in the lab.

To recap this exceptional nevertheless inspirational initial phase of the residency, the panellists will introduce the scientific work at the IES that has sparked first ideas between the artist and the scientists, and contemplate the creative process in the context of the restrictions caused by the pandemic. As distinguished guest, Prof. Michael John Gorman, director of Biotopia, will join the panel to bring in his perspective and experience at the intersection of art and science. How to run a residency programme in an era of social distancing? Can valuable and impactful experiences be created in virtual formats? What are the experiences of taking residencies online and what could happen when the residency can start on-site? Are there also opportunities for the future gained by the experience in this virtual start of the residency? And what might the (epigenetic) effects of lockdowns be on us all, and even on future generations?


  • Welcome
  • Introduction to the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells and Art the IES by Prof. Dr. Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla
  • Panel discussion with

Prof. Michael John Gorman, Founding Director at Biotopia

Michael John Gorman is Founding Director of BIOTOPIA, a new museum linking life sciences, art and design in development at Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, and University Professor (Chair) in Life Sciences in Society at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich. Previously Michael John was Founding Director of Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. In 2012 he founded Science Gallery International with the goal of bringing Science Gallery experiences to a global audience. Prior to founding Science Gallery, Michael John was Lecturer in Science, Technology and Society at Stanford University and has held postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard University, Stanford University and MIT. His new book Idea Colliders: The Future of Science Museums, was published by MIT Press in September 2020.

Anna Dumitriu, Bio-Artist and first Artist in Residence at HMGU

Anna Dumitriu is an award winning internationally renowned British artist who works with BioArt, sculpture, installation, and digital media to explore our relationship to infectious diseases, synthetic biology and robotics. Past exhibitions include ZKM, Ars Electronica, BOZAR, The Picasso Museum, HeK Basel, Science Gallery Detroit, MOCA Taipei, LABoral, Art Laboratory Berlin, and Eden Project. She holds visiting research fellowships at the University of Hertfordshire, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and Waag Society, as well as artist-in-residence roles with the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project at the University of Oxford, and with the National Collection of Type Cultures at Public Health England. She was the 2018 President of the Science and the Arts Section of the British Science Association. Her work has beenfeatured in many significant publications including Frieze, Artforum International Magazine, Leonardo Journal, The Art Newspaper, Nature and The Lancet. Current collaborations include the Institute of Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology at BOKU – Universität für Bodenkultur in Vienna, the EU H2020 CHIC Consortium, the University of Leeds and the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells at HelmholtzZentrum in München.

Prof. Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla, Director of the IES and Initiator of Art-the-IES

The research of Prof. Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla has been devoted to unravel the mechanisms that drive cell fate and underlie cellular identity. She is dedicated to bring science closer to society and to revise ethical, legal and societal standards in science promoting responsible research. Since 2009, she has been leading her research group focussing on the epigenetic mechanisms that regulate the transitions of cellular plasticity and epigenetic reprogramming at fertilisation in mammals, with the long-term goal of understanding how totipotency – the capacity of one cell to give rise to all other body cell types – is first established, maintained and how it can be experimentally manipulated.

Dr. Stephan Hamperl, Group Leader at the IES and collaborator of Anna

Throughout his scientific career Dr. Stephan Hamperl (1984) has been interested in understanding how cells avoid and solve conflicts between two fundamental DNA-templated processes – transcription and replication without major accidents leading to DNA damage and genome instability. Since 2018, he is the principal investigator of the group “Chromosome Dynamics and Genome Stability” at the Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells of the Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Together with his team, which comprises five PhD students, one Postdoc and one Lab Manager, he aims to identify the molecular players and characterize the sequence of events that allow DNA replication and transcription to occur simultaneously on our chromosomes.

Clara Hermant, PhD Student at the IES and collaborator of Anna

Clara obtained her Bachelor's in Chemistry and Biology at the University Grenoble Alpes, where she also performed her Master's in Physiology Epigenetics and Development. She first joined the lab for her final Master's work, where she focused on the analysis of the chromatin structure of specific transposable elements during development. She then joined as a Ph.D student in October 2019. For her PhD, she is working on transposable elements regulation that is involved in early mammalian development.

  • moderated by

Dr. Claudia Schnugg, ArtScience Advocate and Consultant for Art-the-IES

Dr. Claudia Schnugg has been working as curator, researcher, producer, and international consultant in intersections of art and aesthetics with science, technology, and business, as well as artscience collaboration processes. Her work focuses on intertwining artists and art projects with new technologies and cutting-edge scientific research. She has explored effects of artistic interventions on social settings, especially framing artistic interventions and art programs in (scientific and corporate) organizations. In doing so, Claudia is developing methodologies for innovation and meaningful interaction with the arts.

Art the IES: In 2020 the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells launched the first artist-in-residence programme at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. Therefore, Prof. Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla, the Director of the institute, and Amelie J. Kraus, the Scientific Coordinator of the Epigenetics@HMGU community, teamed up with Dr. Claudia Schnugg, a SciArt expert, and Anna Dumitriu, a famous and pioneering bioartist. The cross-discipline program aims to engage the public awareness for science and to elucidate the benefits that research brings to society. The beginning of the first residency had the fate to fall into the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and thus had to start out in a virtual format. During this phase, the many virtual conversations and lab tours triggered numerous ideas for experiments and collaborative approaches that will be realised in the second phase of the artist-in-residence programme when the artist Anna Dumitriu will finally be able to travel to visit the laboratory.