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Exploring the fabric of life / 11 April 2015

'23 Pairs', Digital Print and Mixed Media on Canvas. Image © Esther Fox

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At a time when the ethics of genetic screening is at the forefront of public consciousness I feel compelled to explore the role in which I, as a disabled artist, could engage with and inform this discussion from an alternative perspective.

I believe the arts are fundamental in elucidating our understanding of identity, health and potential treatments. My practice explores how the tiny intricacies of biological life have vast social implications relating to medical ethics.

I have just received a small research and development grant from Arts Council to explore how socially engaged arts practice can create opportunities for public debate about genetic screening. This R&D period will allow me to interrogate some of the key themes in my work.

My practice is concerned with the fabric of life, the DNA of our personal and cultural experiences, exposing the fragility of biological structures and unveiling the hidden. I mix the ancient craft of tapestry weaving with contemporary materials and processes, to create intricate structures, which are photographed and projected on a much larger scale; the miniature in opposition to the vast; the historic set against the future.

These delicate and flawed structures provide a metaphor for the genetic fabric of our being. The gaps and holes within the weave are exposed and magnified and the negative spaces become the visual focus. The spaces between encourage questions about what is missing or eradicated. The transient nature of projection also emphasises a sense of loss. Alongside these transitory pieces, I capture these projected images by printing them onto canvas, making permanent what otherwise would not exist. Painted marks are added to the surface, building up further layers of handmade marks in opposition to the digital.

Central to this research and development period is a collaborative process, between artist, scientist, digital developer and Museum. This process will enable cross-pollination between artistic and scientific understanding and will push the boundaries of my practice.

I will be working with a range of partners including Dr Felicity Boardman, from the University of Warwick to explore the role of ‘experiential knowledge’ of disability in prenatal testing decisions. I will also be working with web developer, Peter Pavement, to design a platform for public interaction with the work via online or mobile phone applications.  

I would like to explore the potential for Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) as well as developing a series of images exploring ideas of non-existence using projections which appear and disappear. I have begun conversations with the Science Museum and hope to further explore with them over the coming months the potential for working with their Who Am I? gallery.

At the heart of this project is engaging the wider public and artists with the gritty issues relating to genetic screening. As part of this process I will be writing a series of blogs for DAO where I hope to enable a critical discussion about the role of the artist in the field of medical ethics, in particular the important role disabled artists may play in this field.  

I look forward to hearing your views and getting the discussion rolling…

Keywords: alternative reality games,genetics


Esther Fox

30 May 2015

Thanks Trisha for your interesting comments. One thing in particular strikes me, that you identify the other factors that do indeed shape us and our future, our environmental and societal constructs.

Can this in fact become part of our genetic "memory" so we equally inherit this along with our biological genetic inheritance. I think that is worth pondering on further.


30 May 2015

I just wanted to say how impressive your art contribution goes towards the work. The insight you are giving to the medical and research department is a creative and educational approach towards understanding the gene process and causes of disease.

From a personal point of view environment and human rights, including equality and criminal law all impact on the quality of a persons' life and risk or exposure to disease.

I think you are also right that people tend to ignore what is going on just on the surface. A mental illness can also be passed through generations by DNA. And I think because of societies stereotyping and classes of inequality develop attitudes towards stereotyping and can sometimes have a long and lasting impairment on a persons mental health but also it worries me just how much we expose our children to the same stresses and abuses through ignorance and the same symptoms as a result of how society functions.

Does this mean that mental health will continue to grow among our young and vulnerable because of ignorance on the rise? And will this continue to get worse over generations and become a part of our genetic code? Or will we stand up to the causes and educate our children. Prevention is better than cure and the key to that is education and especially of freedom of expression.

We all want to express ourselves as creative and artistic as possible because it is how we cope with experiences and educate others. I worry about the children of today and tomorrow. I worry they will be a lost generation.

I think your work is an important part of educating the public and receiving grants for this kind of work is important for the researcher and also stresses the importance of freedom of expression, social inclusion and self healing. Well done.