Trust Me I'm an Artist: towards an ethics of art/science collaboration

Neal White, The Void
Neal White, The Void

 

 

Trust Me, I'm An Artist is a series of events investigating ethical issues arising in some art and science collaboration and consider the roles and responsibilities of artists, scientists and institutions.

At each event (before a live audience), an internationally known artist proposes an artwork to a specially formed ethics committee (following the rules and procedures typical of the host country). The committee then debates the proposal and reaches a decision. The artist is informed of the decision and, with the audience, they can discuss the result with the committee.

The proposals selected raise interesting questions for science ethics committees, and will help to reveal the mechanisms that drive this usually hidden process, enabling the public to understand the processes behind ethical decisions and to explore the role of artists working in scientific settings. This is the second event of the series and features artist Neal White.

Neal White works across media, and in no particular medium at all – creating projects with the Office of Experiments that develop collaborative, social and critical spaces using art methods and art materials. His work operates along the fine line between how art thinks and the effect that art has as a social practice. He has been associated with 0+1, formerly APG, Artists’ Placement Group, for several years. Maintaining that art has always pushed the boundaries of the possible in terms of models of social collaboration and networking, his work looks at how these models can engage with other kinds of knowledge producing structures. Neal White is an Associate Professor in Art and Media Practice, The Media School, Bournemouth University. He is also a Research Fellow at Chelsea College of Art and Design (UAL) where he works with Critical Practice Research cluster.

May 1959 on the opening of Yves Klein's exhibition Le Vide (The Void) at Gallery Iris Clert in Paris. Crowds thronged as Yves opened his highly controversial exhibition – that featured a seemingly empty white gallery space. Those lucky enough to gain access, were in for an unexpected treat.

"Special blue cocktails were served: a mixture of gin, Cointreau and methylene blue prepared for Klein by La Coupole, the famous brasserie. As Klein intended, the cocktails caused the urine of drinkers to turn blue for about a week, roughly the planned run of the show."

Since this event took place in 1959, Methylene blue as a stain has been established as toxic. However, it is also a component in several medications (Trac Tabs, Urised, Uroblue) used to reduce symptoms of cystitis, and in other forms for the treatment of methemoglobinemia.

It is our intention to re-create the event as an experiment to establish what are the safest, or least toxic dosage of methylene blue in an alcoholic cocktail required to turn urine blue, if only for a limited period. The effect of this will be monitored, and the dosage will be controlled during the trial.

The setting of the trial is a gallery – the visitor becomes a consensual participant  - an informed Self –Experimenter. In a managed process of consensual participation, the visitor is faced with a choice to consume an artwork that contains the ingredients of Methylene – with only the clinical information. Or to keep the artwork they are given as an intact form, signed by the artist.

The experiment is proposed on the one hand as a rational and logical approach to create a cultural experiment on the basis of a clinical trial under closely monitored conditions. On the other hand it is proposed as a challenge to the limits and practices of ethics as articulated across art and science practice - in its engagement with the politics of consent, belief and institutions themselves. 

Proposed for the deregulated spaces at the service of art and life itself, our aim is to question the physical site of an artwork, the scale of an artwork and our willingness to commit beyond the visual to an embodied experience of art. Our hunch, based anecdotal approach, is that pharmacological research is also a dimension of experience not limited to science, edging us inward from the visible toward the teetering edge of the void.

Collaborators

The project “Trust Me I’m an Artist: Towards an Ethics of Art/Science Collaboration” is led by artist Anna Dumitriu in collaboration with Professor Bobbie Farsides (Chair of Ethics, Brighton and Sussex Medical School) in collaboration with the Waag Society and The University of Leiden. This event is presented in partnership with The Arts Catalyst.  The first event took place in December in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the third will happen in March in Dublin, Ireland.

See www.artscienceethics.com for more information