Synapse Garvan Institute Residency: Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey
We have been back in Sydney this past week working with data importation and also spending quite a time in discussions around outcomes, interests and some new ethical dilemmas.
We are working two strands of the project during this time:
- Looking at de-commissioned machines that will be the vehicle for an installation of sonified data. The Institute relies on a large number of highly-specialised instruments that are constantly upgraded as new knowledge makes new experimental processes possible. We want to use a de-commissioned machine that we will then transform into an “instrument” for musical meaning. We are reflecting on the profound smallness of the material for research, ie. DNA mRNA strands and their component biochemistry, and the profound largeness of potential outcomes in the scientific research, in terms of impacting on millions of people across the world. Within this reflection is the consideration of scale:timescales from nanosecond to evolutionary eons, and physical scale of the extrinsic and intrinsic spaces in and out of the human body.
- The above leads into considering the explicit mappings within our sonification patch. This patch becomes the score for our musical interpretation as we work on appropriate analogies to the issues of scale, and responding directly to what input data is coming into our patch (not only the kinds of variation of data, but also the source of the data, which originates from the bodies of humans (us?) (see below).
We have begun to discuss the ethics of working with data that arises from medical research, and have very quickly reached an “ethical crunch” whereby we will not be able to use real medical data in sonifications, and must then resort to using other material. Real medical data in this lab is collected from tissue that is released with written consent from family members.
Our options for other material are either our own, which raises other ethical implications about access to data, or rodent genetic material, which gives a different source to the project.
With our own genetic material, there are considerations concerning reading the data, which with the specialist knowledge available in the lab will be able to discern pre-dispositions towards various hereditary life threatening illnesses. As a participant in this derivation of genetic material, we would need to decided whether or not we wanted this information, or indeed whether this information should come to us. Private information for public performance. A knot which we have not yet undone.
What is interesting for us is an emerging line between artistic and scientific practice. It is a proven course (though not without complexities) to establish an ethical basis for research using human tissue for the purposes of researching/curing human medical conditions. It is quite a different matter to think about deriving music or other artistic outcome from data obtained in that way.Filed under Ethics in science and art, Thoughts on process | Comment (1)