Tuesday, March 6, 2007


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From: Giovanni Frazzetto
Date: Tue, 6 Mar 2007 12:43:17 +0100 (CET)

Dear Fellow Panelists,

Here are my initial thoughts to this first round of interventions drawnfrom my own experience:

In my experience, the intersection between the scientific and the artisticpractices constitutes an excellent platform to recognise the ways in whichvisions of science have become narratives embedded in cultural phenomena.Much as Susan Squier has pointed out, I attribute an enormous potential tothe immediacy and succinctness of images in highlighting the densemixture of social, political and personal conflicts that can arise fromcontemporary scientific progress and practice. An educated scientificknowledge grants a more considered perception of the immediate benefitsand dangers that can be drawn from scientific study. More importantly, itallows a balanced appreciation of the social and ethical issues raised bythe new technologies. However, the interaction of art and science isestablished as an essential avenue for innovation and intervention, and asa way to explore, envision and critique possible futures and societalaspects of science progress. Artistic representation and its imagery showhow some of the seemingly intractable questions posed by the life sciencescan be addressed: by exposing ambivalent emotions and provoking furtherreflection and discussion with irony and ambiguity, which science oftencannot afford. Museums and art galleries are social spaces and they affordan opportunity where scientific knowledge can meet the cultural imaginary.I was recently involved in the organisation of a Sci-Art exhibitiontogether with Suzanne Anker. The project was called ‘Neuroculture’ (soonto be available on www.neuroculture.org) and it intended to emphasise howthe mechanistic understanding of brain functioning is articulating a newvision of humanness not only equated to the genome, but to the brain andits complex networks. In this vision, a more commonly cherished sense ofthe ‘self’ as an individual inhabited by a deep internal space shaped bybiography and subjective phenomenology is replaced by a somatic sense ofourselves, mapped onto the brain and susceptible to intervention andmanipulation. Contemporary artists, including our fellow-panelists andfacilitators Andrew Carnie and Suzanne Anker (in a variety of media, suchas painting, sculpture, photography, installation and video), incorporatedinto their works myriad visions of neuroscience ranging from the utopianto the dystopic and bearing reference to the philosophical and socialsignificance of neuroscience findings and procedures. For the project Idivested myself of the garments of science and challenged, by the creationof an ironic work of art, the benefits of advances in psychopharmacologyand the potential danger of an unbridled use of psychotropic drugs and ofneurochemical enhancement. In the piece, called “The Qualia Bar”, qualia,which are subjective states of sentience, acquire a synthetic andreproducible nature. The desired state of sentience is achieved throughthe intake of coloured liquor. In an analogy to Huxley’s Brave New Worldand the drug ‘soma’, citizens and consumers live in a society where thefabrication of emotions is rendered possible.

In line with what Andrew Carnie wrote, I would be inclined to say that the new imaging technologies are pervasively changing our perception ofthe body, and consequently expanding the tools to formalise a perceptionof ourselves. The improving resolution of brain imaging techniques allowsus to see the brain at work, in real time. Regardless of what thesepictures translate into- and we can enter a debate on whether it isplausible to claim that we see emotions or states of mind when we watchthe internal workings of the brain- the mere visualisation of thecerebral activity is bound to leave us with a renewed perception ofourselves, impregnated with wonder and curiosity.I leave a more sophisticated interpretation of the leap in brain imagingtechnologies to an expert practitioner.

Looking forward to further exchanges,

Giovanni Frazzetto
Giovanni Frazzetto, PhD
'Society in Science' Branco Weiss Fellow
European Molecular Biology Laboratory

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