The Periodic Table

In borrowing the term ‘The Periodic Table’ from Mendeleev’s organisation of the elements by atomic weight, the exhibition takes a lead from the Italian writer and chemist Primo Levi, who uses the chemical elements as metaphor for life experience and the human condition. In the opening chapter, entitled Argon, Levi compares his Jewish ancestors, for their ability to retain their distinct identity, with the noble gases, which do not combine or react with other elements. Both the book and exhibition celebrate the magic of transforming base elements into new matter fulfilling the ambition of the alchemists but not in the way they imagined.

The exhibition also includes contributions from invited artists, staff, alumni and students of creative writing who have been commissioned to respond in kind