Crossbreeding Sensibilities

Another fascinating stream at Mutamorphosis was Crossbreeding Sensibilities moderated by Franco Torriani

What are the hopes and fears of becoming a hybrid in a de-modern scenario? How to understand neo-biological civilization and its anxieties? Can artists and creative practitioners substantially contribute, by cross researches and productions, to the treatment of major diseases and chronic pains?

These questions resonated throughout the entire conference, culminating in a final discussion during the last presentation, a session dedicated to final remarks of the Biohacklab participants.

Torriani’s panel had  the Grid Spinoza at Barcelona, Dolores (and David) Steinman from Toronto’s Biomedical Simulation Lab , and Tyler Fox (representing the Vancouver based Transforming  Pain research group led by Diane Gromala and Chris Shaw) confronting the challenges, the limitations and the potentials that interdisciplinary collaborations pose to artists and scientists alike. For instance, The researchers of the Grid Spinoza project attempted to map (by means of archival material and interviews to artists and scientists) the practical and theoretical dynamics occurring during art and science collaborations. Specifically, the project focused on approaches to the topics of metaphor and uncertainty.  Unable to describe with traditional terms the new categories arising from art/science collaborations , the team decided to use words such as interdisciplinarity and crossdisciplinarity and opted for Anti-disciplinarity. This term, they affirm, was chosen to avoid setting any priority on one or more disciplines as well as to highlight the specificity of art/science collaborations. This new terminology however , is not enough to dispel the challenges occurring during collaborations  among different individuals. disciplinary divisions and definitions are still alive and well generating assumptions, classifications, and further divisions.

Divisions and assumptions are aspects that Dolores and david Steinman know very well. at the biomedical simulation lab (see my overview at Subtle Technologies Festival here ) the challenge is to establish dialogues among different medical and scientific professionals without incurring in misunderstandings and language conflicts. The role of the artist as mediator is, for the Steinmans, an extremely important tool to assist and enhance the work of the researcher.

Steinman discussed the laboratory’s  work in the context of  the theme of uncertainty. In her case, uncertainty is dictated by choice, not by necessity. In fact, in order to  reconstruct the blood flow of , say, an artery, it is necessary to break it into bits (tetrahedral elements) that are however determined by the human operator, not by a machine or through an exact process. The operator in this case plays a strategic role, as he/she may decide how certain details will be visualized and in what form.
For Steinman, this aspect is only partially problematic. In fact, it is not the uncertainty contained in the data visualizated that can lead to misunderstanding in the diagnosis of a disease, but the lack of awareness of such uncertainty. Thus, communication with clinician (not exactitude in simulation) becomes necessary.

A different approach can be observed in the work of the Transforming  Pain research group where collaborative work across disciplines is used to deal with a condition as much elusive  as difficult to diagnose as Chronic Pain. In this case crossdisciplinary collaborations are used to create tools that help patient manage pain (to distract the patient from focusing on pain, to teach the patient to self-modulate his/her pain or to reduce the anxiety arising from chronic pain. in this case, it is the condition itself, not its measurement or its representation that dictate the parameters. Thus, collaborative work across art and science is called to focus on the individual patient rather than on the disease, it is based on his/her affective state, rather than on the establishment of disciplinary guidelines that put everybody in agreement or that avoid misunderstandings in interpretation.