Investigation, intervention, inquiry, analysis, critique, visualisation, modeling. All these processes are present in scientific methodology, in the disciplines of art, design and aesthetics, and in the methods of the history and philosophy of science and medicine. If the sheer knife of a microtome can give us the startling and strange histological slice of tissue that revealed the neuron to Ramon y Cajal for the first time, then we must also be able to wield with equal precision what we know about aesthetics to reveal vital information about the cultures that made the objects under scrutiny; here we have investigated the prosaic but fundamental way that both plastics and computing have revolutionised medicine. Under a humanities microscope, epistemological investigations of the ritual and often hypnotically repetitive practices of biomedicine can reveal, among other things, the social assumptions that often underpin disease prediction.
In Split + Splice we used different techniques from the arts, the sciences and the humanities as prisms to analyse the same material in several ways. The exhibition’s “catalogue” User Manual was also the object index for the entire show: a gift for the visitor to take away and keep, but also something that set the objects free from the text, allowed them to be discovered in their form and materiality by the visitor.
Split + Splice was not about the “user end” or the magic bullet, but rather the minutiae of biomedicine’s daily practice.
We took the visitor into the engine room of biomedicine, into its Cold Room, its Wet Lab, its number crunching, its visualisation practices. Its incubators and ion exchange columns. Its legal frameworks and its media leaks. We took the visitor into some of the historical origins of biomedicine’s process of fragmenting the body into smaller and smaller pieces. We came to the conclusion that all of biomedical practice is a never-ending attempt to contain the torrent of life and manage the flows of this cascade of complexity from biosample to dataset, from clinic to lab, from individual to populace. These practices of containment and flow tells us much about the cultures of biomedicine and the kinds of societies that its practices produce.
In developing the exhibit we pursued two major goals, which were to show that
· aesthetics can be an analytical tool as well as a communication tool and
· epistemological inquiry can guide what an exhibition ends up looking like.
Split+Splice was an experience, not an explanation. We wanted people to leave the exhibition with a sense of how to ask pertinent questions about biomedicine and the ways in which it affects their own individual and social/collective lives.