University of Oxford

Trust Me, I’m an Artist #3: “Confronting the Bacterial Sublime: Building a BSL 2 Lab in a Gallery” with Anna Dumitriu

This series of public events, taking place in international settings, investigate the new ethical issues arising from art and science collaboration and consider the roles and responsibilities of the artists, scientists and institutions involved. At each event (before a live audience) an internationally known artist will propose an artwork to a specially formed ethics committee (following the rules and procedures typical for the host country), the ethics committee will then debate the proposal and come to a decision, the artist will then be informed of the ethics committee’s decision and, alongside the audience, they can enter into a discussion about the result. The proposals have been selected as they raise interesting questions for science ethics committees and will help reveal the mechanisms that drive this usually hidden process, enabling the wider public to understand the driving forces behind ethical decisions and the role of artists working in scientific settings more deeply. 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 Waag Society, Leiden University and BioSolar Cells.

Event 3: “Confronting the Bacterial Sublime: Building a Biosafety Level 2 Lab in a Gallery” with Anna Dumitriu

The event took place on Thursday 1st March 2012, 6-8pm at The Science Gallery, The Naughton Institute, Pearse Street, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Eire.

Professor Bobbie Farsides introduces the project “Trust Me I’m an Artist: Towards an Ethics of Art/Science Collaboration”. Professor Farsides also chaired the event.

Anna Dumitriu is proposing the construction of a portable Biosafety Level 2 Microbiology Laboratory for use in art gallery settings. The purpose of the space will be to allow the exhibition of artworks created using pathogenic and genetically modified bacteria and to provide supervised access and hands on practical art and microbiology workshops for the public. Dumitriu has previously exhibited a number of works created using GM and pathogenic bacteria that have either been killed and sterilised or filmed in remote settings (including her contribution The Science Gallery exhibition “Infectious” entitled “Cybernetic Bacteria 2.0 which made links between human digital communication and bacterial chemical communication). In this work she seeks to enable the audience to experience what it feels like to be confronted with the intricate behaviours of living bacteria in their most sublime form.

Anna Dumitriu’s work blurs the boundaries between art and science with a strong interest in the ethical issues raised by emerging technologies. Her installations, interventions and performances use a range of digital, biological and traditional media including live bacteria, robotics, interactive media, and textiles. Her work has a strong international exhibition profile and is held in several major public collections, including the Science Museum in London. Dumitriu is known for her work as founder and director of “The Institute of Unnecessary Research”, a group of artists and scientists whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries and critiques contemporary research practice. She is currently working on a Wellcome Trust commission entitled “The Hypersymbiont Salon”, collaborating as a Visiting Research Fellow: Artist in Residence with the Adaptive Systems Research Group at The University of Hertfordshire (focussing on social robotics) and (formerly Leverhulme Trust) Artist in Residence on the UK Clinical Research Consortium Project “Modernising Medical Microbiology”. Her major international project “Trust me I’m an artist, towards an ethics of art/science collaboration” (in collaboration with the Waag Society in Amsterdam and The University of Leiden) investigates the novel ethical problems that arise when artists create artwork in laboratory settings. She is also a contributing editor to Leonardo Electronic Almanac.
Ethics Committee short biographies:

Professor Jay Hinton
Professor Jay Hinton is the Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at Trinity College Dublin. During his PhD at the University of Warwick he became interested in the way that bacterial pathogens cause disease in humans, and this led him to begin work on Salmonella at Oxford University. In 1999, Professor Hinton moved his research group to Norwich, UK, and pioneered an innovative technique that revealed a “snapshot” of the bacterial processes involved in disease. He now uses post-genomic approaches to study the intricate interplay of bacterial gene expression that leads to infection by Salmonella.

Professor Steven Gordon
Professor Stephen Gordon is an Associate Professor at University College Dublin. He has worked for 20 years on the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB) in man and animals. TB causes over 2 million humans deaths a year, while TB in animals has serious implications for animal welfare and public health. His research is focussed on understanding how the TB bacteria cause disease at the molecular level, and is trying to use this knowledge to develop improved diagnostics, vaccines, and drugs that can be used to control TB.

Professor Paschal Preston
Paschal Preston founding director of the Communication, Technology and Culture (COMTEC), an interdisciplinary unit focused on social, cultural and political aspects of digital ICTs. He is a full professor and former Head of the School of Communication at Dublin City University. The COMTEC research unit has participated in many multi-partner and multi-country research projects, mostly funded by EU “Framework” research programmes, trusts, and by national sources.

Books by Paschal Preston include : (2009) ‘Making the News : Contemporary Journalism Practices and News Cultures in Europe’ (London: Routledge) and (2001) ‘Reshaping Communications : Technology, Information and Social Change’. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Inga Hamilton
Installation artist, Inga Hamilton is often used for events such as The Art And Craft Of Saving The World, Southbank, London, to explore the meshing ground between science, art and craft. She works both in Ireland and the USA with mathematicians and scientists creating, often transient, installations that instigate debate between the fields. It’s the easiest thing to shock, but her ambition is to captivate your heart, dissolving pre-conceptions. Inga has exhibited at, amongst others, The American Irish Historical Society; Chicago Cultural Centre; The Hayward; Clarence House; FE McWilliam Gallery, Oliver Sears and The Ark. Her recent residencies at SLU, NY and Pyramid Atlantic, MD, have led her to be offered a tri-facility residency in Washington DC.

The Science Gallery:
“It may have ‘science’ in the title, but each exhibition at the gallery proves it to be the most creative, innovative and artistic venue in Ireland.” – Shane Hegarty, Irish Times, April 2011

Science Gallery is a world first. A new type of venue where today’s white-hot scientific issues are thrashed out and visitors can have their say. A place where ideas meet and opinions collide.

Download the ethics form completed by Anna Dumitriu here:

Download the participant information leaflet produced by Anna Dumitriu here:

Download the consent form produced by Anna Dumitriu here:

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