Sonya Dyer | The Ready Room

From: 25th January 2024 6:00 pm

To: 30th March 2024 6:00 pm


Primary, 33 Seely Road, Nottingham, UK




EXHIBITION: 26 January – 30 March 2024
OPENING EVENT: Thursday 25 January 2024, 6-9pm
Thursday – Saturday, 10am-6pm, or by appointment.

Hard Science meets Science Fiction: Artist Sonya Dyer transforms Primary’s gallery to create a speculative fiction centring on reimagining the dubious history of HeLa cells.

The exhibition creates a Ready Room for HeLa cells, transforming the gallery into the interior of a spaceship, a space for anthropomorphic cells to speculate and conspire.

In naval culture and speculative fiction, the Ready Room is where mission briefs amongst senior crew occur. It can also be the captain’s semi-private space, particularly in shows in the ‘Star Trek’ universe. HeLa cells were originally taken from the body of Henrietta Lacks, a young Black mother in the USA, and were the first human materials sent into space in 1960. In this project, hard science meets science fiction, with the Ready Room providing space for cells to relax, strategize and entertain. Recalling HeLa’s dubious genesis, the exhibition contemplates alternate forms of building society – what if the HeLa cells have found a better way to live?

Sonya Dyer’s work intertwines speculative fiction, hard science and mythologies to propose new ways of conceiving where the centre is located in fictional narratives of the future. Her ongoing project, Hailing Frequencies Open (HFO), is inspired by a trilogy of influences – HeLa cells, Nyota Uhura (‘Star Trek’) and the Greek myth of Andromeda (which is also a galaxy).

HeLa cells are the gold standard for biomedical research; they are ‘immortal’ cells able to reproduce under any circumstances, hence their utility for research into treatment for AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. A central component of HFO is the idea that the HeLa cells sent into space by the Soviets in 1960 have formed a community and now wish to communicate with Earth.

The gallery space will host the head of ‘Lucy’, part of a final sculptural artwork in a trilogy of spaceships Dyer has made, forming the basis of her exhibition ‘The Parent Child’ in Autumn 2023 at Somerset House, London.

Action>Potential is a two-channel moving image work centring Andromeda, the personified galaxy and constellation that shares its name with the Aiethiopian Princess Andromeda in Greek mythology. In Sonya’s work, Andromeda metaphorically embodies the reclamation of the neglected stories of Black women of science and mythology. In Action>Potential, Andromeda is trying to return home to her galaxy after unexpectedly finding herself in a science lab, where she comes across a rogue mitochondria named Lucy.

‘Lucy’ is a large-scale sculpture of the rogue mitochondria in Action>Potential, sprawling across Primary’s gallery wall and transforming into something new altogether. Lucy forms the last in a series of space vessel sculptures named after three enslaved women experimented on by a notorious 19th-century US gynaecologist.

Artist Bio:

Sonya Dyer’s practice explores where the centre is located in fictional narratives of the future. She explores how subjectivities and alliances are formed across cultures and temporalities, creating radical futures through unexpected connections. Recent projects include Hailing Frequencies Open HFO), her long-term body of work, which intersects the Greek myth of Andromeda, the dubious genesis and extraordinary legacy of HeLa cells and actor Nichelle Nicols’ (Star Trek’s ‘[Uhura’) pioneering work with NASA in the 1970s across sculpture and moving image. Dyer is a Somerset House Studios Resident, was a finalist for the Arts Foundation Futures Award 2021, and is an alum of the Whitney Museum of American Art: Independent Study Program. Recent exhibitions include Three Parent Child, Somerset House (2023), The London Open, Whitechapel Gallery, Whitstable Biennial, Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival (all 2022), Directions: Forward, Karst Gallery (2021), Thirteen Ways of Seeing, Herbert Museum and Art Galleries (2021), Art Night London (2021), Rewriting The Future, Site Gallery (2019), Or, Dark Fecundity, The Centre for Afrofuturist Studies, USA (2018), Another World is Possible, CAMP, Copenhagen (2018) and The Claudia Jones Space Station, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (2017). Dyer is a lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London and a Visiting Lecturer at The Royal College of Art.


The Ready Room will be located in our ground floor gallery space which has full level access from our new main entrance on Seely Road.

If you would like to make a group booking or visit our exhibitions at a quiet time please contact us on admin@weareprimary.org or 0115 924 4493 to arrange.

Large print and braille versions of the exhibition text will be available, please ask our Front of House Assistant for details.

Please email admin@weareprimary.org or call 0115 924 4493 with any access inquiries.



Booking Link

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