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I lost my tooth to art: Palaces at The Bluecoat, Liverpool

Palaces by Gina Czarnecki. Image: Palaces Website
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Palaces by Gina Czarnecki

Hannah stands in front of a crystal resin sculpture that twists and spikes towards the white cubed ceiling. In her hand is a neatly wrapped milk tooth in a little silver bag.

“Where do you want to put it?” says the sculpture’s creator, Gina Czarnecki.

Tooth Fairy

Hannah hands over the tooth, but not to the Tooth Fairy

Adding a redundant body part to an emergent art project that raises big questions about the future of science and medicine is perhaps the most important job my daughter has ever had. She thinks carefully before making a firm decision about the tooth’s final resting place.

“There’s hardly any teeth on it,” Matthew comments, poking his head around the sculpture.

“There are actually 600 on there already,” Gina replies,  “and if everybody just gives one, it’ll build up. It’s up to others to grow it now, I’m just the caretaker.”

I lost my tooth to art

A crystal resin structure that will eventually be covered in milk teeth from children from around the world is a great idea for a piece of participative art. But how do you produce a milk tooth on demand? We’ve been wobbling ours since we decided to visit the Palaces sculpture at Liverpool’s The Bluecoat. Thankfully one of Hannah’s friends had just lost one and her mum wrestled it back from the Tooth Fairy, or we’d have had to come empty handed.

Artist Gina Czarnecki glues tooth to Palaces

Artist Gina Czarnecki glues another tooth to Palaces

Hannah chooses the spot, towards the centre of the piece, and Gina glues the tooth on with a glue specially procured to stick teeth to resin.

“What we are doing is embedding them. They’ll become part of the sculpture. They’ll never fall off and they’ll never discolour. It’ll look like coral in the end, and hopefully if we get thousands and thousands they’ll all spill over the plinth and form like water droplets coming down. This is only the beginning of the sculpture. As it travels it will get bigger.”

Bigger to the tune of 12,000 teeth if the sculpture grasps the imagination of the nation.

Where art meets science and engages the public

Although born in the art world, Palaces was conceived through science. The sculpture is part of the Wasted Project; a series of installations exploring the life giving potential for unwanted body parts. It came about after conversations between Liverpool based artist Gina and stem cell biologist Sara Rankin and explores the regenerative potential of adult stem cells, and the possibility of discarded body parts like bones, milk teeth and fat from liposuction one day being routinely used to create new cells or repair damaged tissue.

“The idea is to educate people about the different types of stem cells that could be used, not just the controversial embryonic one,” says Gina who attempts to explain the complex theory of stem cells to our non-scientific family. She explains how scientists  can take stem cells from fat and bones and teeth as well as embyros, but these are not the same.

“Sara often compares it to an egg. If you get an egg you can make into a cake or omelette. As soon as you crack it it can no longer be a boiled egg, and once whisked it becomes more defined. Embryonic stem cells can be turned into anything, just like the uncracked egg.”

Palaces: Science, Art, Myths and Magic. Please do touch.

Palaces: Science, Art, Myths and Magic. Please do touch.

As a creative exchange between artists and scientists Palaces questions our views on emerging medical research, but is also intended to raise questions about everything from the role of storytelling in families to the role of the National Health Service in society.

“It’s very personal but also there are these really huge questions we should be asking as a responsible citizen, and of our scientists and artists,” says Gina. “I’m interested in the history of medicine, science and magic all linked together.  But also the authority of institutions like hospitals and the church, and I want to look at why we still maintain rituals which we may or may not believe in.”

I ask if Gina took into account the tooth fairy rituals that mums like me have worked so hard to maintain?

“It was never to destroy belief systems,” Gina reassures me. “We designed an IOU token to put under your pillow so when the Tooth Fairy comes she knows not to take your tooth. Palaces carefully protect beliefs.”

It’s great to be able to say ‘Do touch’

I take a walk around the structure, marvelling at how tiny a baby tooth can look when surrounded by swirling resin and a big white room. I find myself wishing I had held on to my children’s teeth, as a way of preserving this fleeting stage of their childhood. I have an overwhelming urge to touch the teeth, and am surprised when Gina nods her approval, “This is an opportunity to engage (with a public sculpture) in a physical way. Do not touch is so often the golden rule in galleries, and kids always want to touch,  so it’s great to be able to say yes.”

People have started to send in drawings and stories about their teeth which are being collected and mounted as part of the exhibition. I ask Gina about feedback so far and she says responses have been positive, although ‘creepy’ comes up now and again; mostly from adults. I don’t find it creepy. It is rather beautiful and reminds me of a huge but delicate crown, of the princess not dental variety. What I do find unsettling are the armchairs in the same room, also part of the Wasted Project, with cushions made out of human fat. I am allowed to sit on one.

Armchairs made of fat, Wasted Project Gina Czarnecki

These armchairs are part of the Wasted Project. Sit comfortably on cushions of human fat.

It is an uncomfortable reminder that as my forties progress my stomach is growing faster than my children’s teeth.  I’d like to add my fat to this sculpture. I’m waiting for Gina to ask me where I want to put it, but she doesn’t. Instead she puts her little bottle of glue back in her pocket, telling me our tooth will now make its way to London; to the Science Museum and then the Centre of the Cell.  Sometimes the kids get to have all the fun.

Got a tooth to spare?

Palaces welcomes milk teeth donations and the developing sculpture can be seen (and touched) at The Bluecoat until 19th February 2012, then at the Science Museum, London, 7th April – 28th June 2012, and the Centre of the Cell, London, 9th July – 16th September 2012.

Read more from our  Liverpool Adventures: 

Thanks: to Gina Czarnecki for taking the time to meet and talk with us at The Bluecoat. 

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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