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Trust Me, I’m an Artist: Building Opportunities for Art and Science Collaboration Through an Understanding of Ethics
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TRUST ME, I’M AN ARTIST© ISAST   doi:10.1162/LEON_a_01481 LEONARDO, Vol. 51, No. 1, pp. 00–00, 2018 83 TRUST ME, I’M AN ARTIST: BUILDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ART AND SCIENCE COLLABORATION THROUGH AN UNDERSTANDING OF ETHICS Anna Dumitriu, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9PX, U.K. Email: . See for supplemental files associated with this issue. Submitted: 15 December 2016 Abstract Ethical issues frequently arise in the production and exhibition of bioart, both as subject matter and as an issue in itself. This article explores how learning from the author’s experiences as lead project artist in the Creative Europe–funded Trust Me, I’m an Artist project, along with her work as a freelance artist, which is deeply embedded in laboratory settings around the world, can help build capacity and opportunities for artists and scientists to work together in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations to address the societal and cultural implications of emerging bioscientific and biomedical research areas, attitudes to patient care, and public engagement in contemporary scientific research. Keywords: ethics, bioscience, biomedicine, bioart Introduction We are in an age where cutting-edge technologies in the socalled life sciences are being used to make new discoveries on an almost daily basis, particularly in the field of genomics. But the general public is increasingly detached from that research because technical language and a lack of education create a huge barrier to comprehension. This results in many misunderstandings about contemporary scientific fields such as synthetic biology, the human microbiome, regenerative medicine, bioinformatics and genomics. It also means that the majority of people are not able to participate in ethical debates around new technologies—in any kind of considered way—to help decide if a new technology is something we (as a society) want, something we should protest, or indeed something so urgently needed that it must be immediately supported and pushed ahead with. How is the public to understand an issue such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) when people are at the mercy of the fear-mongering tabloid press and advertisers selling hand sanitizers? Even our supposed leaders, from politicians and healthcare organizations to scientists and doctors, cannot agree on how to best deal with the issue. A Potential Role for Art Art can have a role to play in engaging the public in scientific research. By this, I do not propose that artists become publicists or persuaders for scientific research that may or may not prove to be beneficial in the long term. Neither do I suggest that artists become illustrators of scientific theories, and definitely not that they use their skills to help create attractive digital data visualisations—unless this is their area of interest and key to their practice rather than a response to what is being asked of them. When artists engage with an area of research at a deep level, they have the opportunity to explore and critically interrogate that field in a number of interesting ways, bringing together aesthetic sensibilities, such as beauty or disgust, with intellectual complexity. Artists can explore ethical dilemmas, such as the potential risk of the misuse of emerging genome editing technology (known as CRISPR) in bioweapons or crimes, set against its importance in understanding genetic diseases or cancer or perhaps even leading to cures for such diseases. Artists also have the ability to reach out to audiences that describe themselves as “non-scientific,” as we have seen from major efforts by organizations such as the Eden Project in Cornwall, U.K. Its events program in the semi-permanent, bioart-focused exhibition Invisible You: The Human Microbiome explores contemporary research in relation to the bacterial life that coexists with us. The exhibition is an invisible (micro)biome that’s set alongside the program’s vast Mediterranean and rainforest biomes, forming the largest greenhouse in the world. It’s visited by around one million people per year, including older people, tourists and school groups, most of whom fall into the non-scientific and often low-income category . Issues like antimicrobial resistance, the potential end of the antibiotic age, and ecology are hugely important to these audiences , and visitor numbers and workshop attendance figures indicate their desire...