During spring 2012 we carried out an arts project called “i-trans” in collaboration with the Science Museum in London. It was a £10,000 project funded by the Arts Council England. The aim of the project was for young trans participants to explore the relationship between identity and technology. The project involved five sessions with a total of 50 participants and resulted in the creation of artwork which was then displayed at a sharing event at the Dana Centre of the Science Museum on June 16th 2012.
As part of the workshops we considered some of the artworks and exhibits in order to consider how science and technology impacts on how we form our identities.
Session 1 – Hexen 2.0 by Susan Treister
On Saturday 14th April the group met for the first time at the Science Museum to see the exhibition Hexen 2.0 by artist Susan Treister.
From the Science Museum’s website – “HEXEN 2.0 is a project by British artist Suzanne Treister. HEXEN 2.0 charts the coming together of diverse physical and social sciences in the framework of post-Second-World-War US governmental and military imperatives. It investigates the development of cybernetics, the history of the internet, the rise of ‘Web 2.0’ and mass intelligence gathering and the interconnected histories of the counterculture, and explores the implications of new systems of societal manipulation and the development of a ‘control society’ alongside historical and current responses to advances in technology.”
Afterwards, with buzzing brains, we reconvened and discussed our individual responses to the art, both the ideas Treister is expressing and how she has expressed them.
Session 2 – Exploring the Science Museum
On Wednesday 25th April a group of us were given a tour of some of the exhibits in the Science Museum by Hannah Redler, Head of Arts Projects at the Science Museum.
Do Not touch by Christian Moeller is in the Energy Gallery.
Do Not Touch is a simultaneously titillating and unnerving art installation which suggests an element of unpredictability in a risk-free museum environment. The artwork subversively creates conflict by tempting you to do precisely what you are being warned not to do. A sign on the floor around a tall metal pole clearly says ‘DO NOT TOUCH’, yet there is no safety barrier to prevent you from doing so. Would you choose to touch it? When you ignore the warning by touching the pole, you experience an electric shock, amplified by sound.
The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites is one of a series of “interventions” around the various galleries in the museum.
Pulling apart the cheapest toaster he could find on the high street, designer Thomas Thwaites wanted to unveil the complexity hidden in the everyday objects we take for granted. So he set about building his own toaster from scratch by mining and processing all of the raw materials himself.
Many more of the art works on show at the Science Museum can be seen on their website.
Session 3 – The Brain exhibition at the Wellcome Collection
On Thursday the 3rd of May, a group of us met at the Wellcome Trust on Euston Road to have a look at their exhibition, “Brains – the mind as matter”.
From Within, Annie Cattrell
Silvered bronze cast, 2006
The Wellcome Collection is a “free visitor destination for the incurably curious, exploring the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future.”
For me, the way the collection uses art to communicate complex scientific concepts is very inspiring. The Brain exhibition was not just about the physical object that is the brain (which, when you see it up close in this exhibition is little more than a squidgy blob with wrinkles on it) but also gave a cultural and historical context. From the Wellcome Collections blog – “Brains weaves the brain’s greater history into a collection of sometimes macabre, often striking and frequently hypnotic images taken from art, science and that fertile cauldron in between.”
We also had time to wander through the rest of the collection and view a slice of a human being, preserved between sheets of glass and a chastity belt amongst other curiosities.
This image is a wallpaper design made for the festival of Britain in 1951, based on a contour map of insulin. I found it in one of the online galleries called Science and Art on the Wellcome Collection website
“Often seen as opposites, science and art both depend on observation and synthesis” – Wellcome Collection website.
Session 4 – MAKING DAY
On the 12th of May, we met at the Science Museum’s Dana Studio for the first of our “Making Days”. There were three tasks set over the course of the afternoon and the aim was to practice developing ideas and actually creating things. It was also an opportunity to share our work and experience talking about our ideas with other people in the group. One of the things we spoke about at the start of the session was that we would try to not undermine ourselves when other people commented on our work. It’s a really hard skill, to be able to just say “thank you” when someone compliments you and resist the temptation to say that your work is rubbish!
The first brief was to choose two words from a list and illustrate or write about them. The second task was to design an exhibit that the Science Museum of the future – 2100 – could show to do with gender. Some people’s exhibits were looking back at how trans people are treated now, others were demonstrating new forms of technology.
The year is 2100.
Will life be better for us or worse in 88 years time?
When we visited the museum a few weeks ago some of us tried out the tongue in cheek game that tells you if your brain is more male or more female. Will we have found a medical reason for transness in 88 years time? Might we have a cure? Maybe body modification can happen at the flick of a switch. Maybe we can try out different genders or different bodies. Maybe nothing will change!
Design something to go in the Science Museum of the future that sums up what being trans in 2100 is all about.
Finally, we worked in groups on a photographic project “Portrait of a Cyborg”, exploring how each of us uses technology and how that relates to our identities.
Portrait of a Cyborg
Build up a portrait of someone by photographing the technology they use. It could be a series of photographs, maybe to become a photo collage or just one shot. Could be a real person or fictional.
For example –
At the end of the session, we pinned up all the work and displayed the photographs on a screen. Everybody spoke about their work, what they were pleased with and what they might do differently. So many more ideas came from looking and talking about what we’d done!
Session 5 – Developing ideas
We were a smaller group this evening as we worked on our ideas for artworks. I began animating some of the 2100 drawings with the idea to turn them into a short animated film. I was able to consult with the individual artists about how their drawings could be animated and demonstrate some of the things the software, After Effects, can do. It was a useful skill sharing exercise for me too, as I learnt some new Photoshop tricks.
Session 6 – Sound Recording
This evening we were joined by Aleks Kolkowski, the Sound Artist in Residence at the Science Museum.
Here he is making live recordings onto wax cylinders. For us, he used more modern recording devices to record voice overs for the animations. Aleks then demonstrated a piece of software called High C, which allows the user to “draw with sound”.
Session 7 – MAKING DAY 2
On the 2nd of June we had our second Making Day. Some people had brought in work that they wanted to get on with, others began making new work on the day.
A small group of us talked to Hannah about the Electroboutique exhibition at the Science Museum that some of the i:trans participants had seen. From that we looked at avatars, following this brief –
discuss why second life is so appealing to our community.
brainstorm ideas around what kind of avatar you have? or would like to have?
sketch out your avatar
together invent a game/ scene where your avatars come together in a virtual world.
At the end of the session we talked about our work with the rest of the group and made plans for the sharing event on the 16th of June.
Our sharing event was a great success! People came, looked at the work, drank tea and ate cookies and talked with the artists. Photos to follow.
We were invited to show the work again at the late opening event at the Science Museum on June 27th. We showed the digital work and gave two talks which attracted quite a few people and opened up lively discussions about gender. Where will we show the work next? Watch this space!