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Saturday 11 May 2024

University Of Brighton Collaboration Makes Pavlov's Dogs The Tiny Stars Of A New Exhibition

Psychology lecturer Dr Matthew Adams and designer and technical project manager Jim Wilson lead a creative team telling the untold story of the animal participants in Russian psychologist Pavlov's experiments.

Pavlov and the kingdom of dogs: a secret history, uses a series of detailed models (dioramas) as well as images, text and audio guides to lead audiences into the world of Pavlov's laboratory set against the backdrop of resistance and revolution in late 19th and early 20th century St Petersburg, Russia.  

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) was a Russian psychologist whose experiments involving dogs salivating in response to stimuli such as a ticking metronome or a buzzer led to the discovery of the 'conditioned reflex', now known as the Pavlovian response. 

The exhibition puts the dogs, once anonymous experimental subjects, at centre stage and offers a twist on accepted narratives and challenges preconceptions about Pavlov's methods and the supposedly docile experimental animals involved. 

The dioramas feature meticulously detailed recreations of Pavlov's laboratory including the experimental procedures, sinister goings on in the Tower of Silence, an antivivisection protest, the medicinal uses of the gastric juice of a dog, and Pavlov: Action Hero.

Dr Matthew Adams, Principal Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Brighton said: 

"The idea was inspired by my research focus on human-animal relations and my interest in exploring the history of psychology and science, particularly Ivan Pavlov's experiments with dogs. 

"The more I found out about the detail of the experiments the more I wanted to delve deeper into the lives and experiences of the dogs, the human-animal relationships in the lab and the wider social and cultural changes underway at the time. 

"I became convinced that the story of Pavlov's dogs would interest both academic and non-academic audiences. I started to imagine bringing their stories to light for wider public through art."

"I hope that the exhibition will entertain and inform visitors and prompt audiences to reflect on the role of experimental animals and challenge their representation in scientific, student, and popular texts. 

"By bringing attention to the lives and experiences of these animals, we aim to provoke ethical and political questions about their place in society and culture. 

"Additionally, we anticipate that the exhibition will engage the public in broader debates surrounding animal intelligence, welfare, rights, and connectedness." 

As well as the exhibition, Matthew, who was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Fellowship for the project in 2022, is currently working with illustrator Sophie Burrows to produce a graphic novel on Pavlov's life, work and times, emphasising the central role of experimental animals. 

An international conference at the University of Brighton, supported by the AHRC Fellowship and the University's Centre for Arts and Wellbeing, will take place on 6-7 June. 

Pavlov and the Kingdom of Dogs launches on Saturday, 11th May at 35 North Gallery, Brighton and runs for the duration of the Brighton Fringe Festival

by: Mike Cobley


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