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One Sided? / 15 November 2015

Early ideas of planning how to use imagery and text suspended within the temporary exhibitions case

Early plans of exhibition case using a mix of text and imagery

Zoom in to this image and read text description

Since my last blog, I have been thinking about the importance of depicting multiple viewpoints relating to genetic screening in the final piece of work.  In particular, the choice of materials will be integral to the way the concept is explored.  I have been considering a range of options but I am most drawn to the idea of printing on glass, to create multiple layers where sometimes text is visible and sometimes the negative spaces become equally important.   The text will be based on some of the statements that have emerged from the research Dr Felicity Boardman has been undertaking into opinions on prenatal screening. I particularly wanted to use layers of glass so the viewer could move around the work reading it from different sides.  At moments only one side of the debate would be visible, then others would emerge.

However on my visit to the Science Museum, when I started to investigate the technicalities of hanging the work, it transpired that the exhibition case I would be using had a fixed back panel so could only be viewed from one side.  This has of course meant a re-think on my part. It doesn't preclude the idea of printing multi-layered glass panels representing multiple voices and there may be ways it can be lit which highlights one viewpoint then another, but it will still be viewed from the front. From one side.

This got me thinking more about the audience. This was my second visit to the Who Am I gallery and again it was very busy, predominantly with young adults and some families. It made me wonder whether this might be the first time they will be asked to consider what they feel about genetic screening. It therefore seemed more important than ever to really interrogate how art, rather than just the science behind the issue, can open up space for a more multifaceted debate.

I believe that if you approach a difficult topic such as genetic screening in a way that is creative, you allow people to feel less restricted and concerned about saying "the wrong thing".  I also think it is part of the role of the artist to encourage people to explore different perspectives and perhaps shed a new light on something.

The previous week I had been at an event hosted by Heritage Lottery Fund and over lunch, was talking to Gus Garside about Carousel’s project Curing Perfect. is an online graphic novel where players are asked to negotiate what a perfect world might look like. This project is led by learning disabled artists and filmmakers and came out of discussions they were having in response to latest genetic advancements for “curing” Down Syndrome. They are partnering with Birmingham University and this project is a fantastically creative approach to the subject and has public engagement at it’s heart.

A core part of my practice wishes to engage the wider public with the issue of genetic screening, but I feel there is still some reticence and this may be a bigger challenge than I had originally anticipated. Even on this blog there has not been as much public discussion as I'd hoped. On my personal Facebook page I am getting more comments and this made me wonder whether my friends felt “safer” and more able to comment on my own private space rather than on such a public blog. If so, is there still anxiety about expressing views on this emotive subject in such a public way?

Any thoughts on how to engage more widely with the public would be really helpful during this stage of development and all opinions are welcome, this is not just a one sided debate.


Colin Hambrook

23 November 2015

Genetic screening is a very sensitive issue and I can understand peoples' reluctance in making comment on this page. FB messages tend to disappear below the fold quickly. They soon become inaccessible and so less importance is attached to leaving them.

By it's nature genetic screening is a medical model process that hinges on us being defined by our conditions and carries with it the curse of ‘perfection’ i.e. being blamed for not being someone we aren’t.

It carries with it the taint of the ‘necessary evil’ i.e. we’d rather it didn’t exist but then the consequences as parents can be enormous.

Without knowing more specifics of the research into opinions about genetic screening it’s difficult to comment further. I’d be interested in knowing more about the texts you are using Esther?

Esther Fox

19 November 2015

Thank you Ron and Colin for your perceptive and interesting comments.

Ron - I completely agree about projection - in fact this was my first choice of approach - but again due to technical challenges, not possible within the case. This is why I then started to think about glass - again because it gives the sense of translucency, something which is fragile or likely to disappear etc. However, I am exploring the idea of projections in public spaces/across buildings further down the line so I'd be really keen to talk to you about this as it sounds like you have lots of experience and are coming from a similar ideology. If you private message me via twitter @AppleyardFox I can give you my contact details.

Also thanks Colin for highlighting the academic article - which I will read. No, I haven't contacted Goldsmiths - this looks like a really interesting avenue to investigate further - thank you. Esther

Ron Moule

19 November 2015

Two things:

It is truly frustrating when the final presentation of the work,and its material constraints, bring about a radical rethink of the 'project' (project in the double meaning of the word).

I would consider projecting the words onto the glass. These projections - of comments,research etc - could overlap, fade in and out, and would be both vestigial and concrete, secure and somehow haunted.

Projection would also mimic and evoke two stages of the epistemological truth of genetics: the sight of phenomena under the microscope, and the 'trace' of genetics used in readings, as laboratory products. In this sense, art of the product of scientific procedures.

I have use projection as a film-maker, and am especially interested in interrogative screenings, where the 'frame' of truth is explored and questioned.

I have also worked as a disability arts/ gay artist with many groups, so would be happy to contribute, free of charge,if you want help, support and technical input.


19 November 2015

Don't know if its of use but I came across this abstract by the academic N.A Holtzman


19 November 2015

Esther have you thought of contacting the Disability Research Centre at Goldsmiths?