At our next event on Thursday evening, accompanying the opening of new exhibition Experiences of Ageing, we’ll be inviting guests to investigate some of the overlooked aspects of medicine with their pen, lens, and hands. We’ll be exploring the quiet spaces that surround the drama of medical objects, everyday medical devices that are often ignored, and the unacknowledged fragility of the body.
The last couple of days I’ve been busily trying to assemble the tool-kit for this expedition, racing around Copenhagen hunting for sketch-pads, tracking down camera cables, and wishing safe journey to the sculptures that will be joining us from London along with their creator.
Working with the artists, Lucy, Jo, and Mette, to decide which metaphorical knife would be best for this particular dissection has been fascinating for me, partly in terms of how the material details of the tool shape the contours of engagement. For instance, deciding whether to use pens or pencils, big sketchpads or small, to try to maximize the ease and pleasure of a short workshop with diverse participants.
This also extends to the mapping out of space and time, for instance how to arrange chairs for a discussion that encourages informality, or how much to explain at the start, and how much to leave to the subtle wildnesses of experience.
At the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST, see #pcst2012) meeting several of us attended in Florence last week, I went to a panel where someone pointed out that events aiming for informal, reciprocal engagement between scientists and publics should avoid microphones and rows of chairs facing a speaker, and aim rather for the kind of informal set-up illustrated in the photos here (Sarah Davies has done interesting research on this).
This really chimes with my experience – one of the most free-flowing discussions I’ve encountered was sitting on hay bales at Latitude festival, neuroscientists and festival-goers untrammelled by closing hours, microphones, or strictly defined ‘controversies’ to discuss. Yet several of the conference attendees in Florence seemed surprised by the critique of chairs and mics, perhaps revealing how widespread the underlying template of an expert-led debate still is.
I think looking at hands-on workshops and practices of all kinds – from art or craft to bio-hacking or dissection – is a great way to shake up assumptions about what a public engagement event should look like; to reveal how space and speech transmit expectations about how we should behave.
Even with a straightforward science talk, thinking of visitors as embodied, emotional beings rather than focusing on whether they understand content and ask ‘good’ questions, could help to create spaces that embody more successfully the goals of public engagement.
In this event, we’re aiming to use hands-on techniques to look differently, slow down, bring ‘seeing’ back to the body… and maybe find the objects and spaces we engage with changed as a result. This is particularly important for areas of medicine that aren’t the flashy brain scanners, surgical robots, or wonder drugs beloved of newspapers. Experiences of Ageing, the new exhibition opening at Medical Museion on Friday, showcases Lucy Lyons’ artistic research into just such an area.
There are just a couple of tickets left for the event, click here to grab one. Lucy will also be talking about her work at a free seminar on Friday at 3pm, and if you’re in the vicinity join us from 4-6pm to raise a glass to the opening of the exhibition!