14 November 2017

Introducing the Arts and Ethics Research Group

By Shawn Harmon

In between confidence and doubt, fear and hope, knowing and uncertainty, fragility and resilience, aggregation and disaggregation. In between entitlements and responsibilities, law and morality. In between boundaries and disciplinary fields. In between the meaningful pauses from one note to the next, one word to the next. In the lab, the studio, the pub, the clinic, the classroom, the office, the market, and the imagination. That is where the Arts and Ethics Research Group (AERG) has been searching for insight and inspiration in relation to some of the most pressing issues that confront the patient, the physician, the researcher, and the artist working in the medical, innovation, and science communication settings.

The AERG, founded at the University of Edinburgh, seeks to encourage both new insights and public debate around ethical, legal, and social aspects of the practice and governance of medical research and healthcare. Comprised of academics from a range of fields (e.g., law, social science, medicine) and artists working in a range of media (e.g., visual arts, design, sound, film, poetry, etc.), it draws on diverse approaches and methodologies. Though the overarching question behind the work of the AERG has been about the transformative potential of the arts to ethics and medical practice, the AERG has been loosely organised around three themes: medical practice (i.e., the doctor-patient relationship and the patient experience); science/healthcare communication (i.e., how arts and the humanities can facilitate robust knowledge-exchange and dialogue); and innovation and global justice (i.e., values, interests, and power dynamics in designing and delivering global healthcare).

In June 2016, members of the AERG successfully exhibited work at the World Congress of the International Association of Bioethics in Edinburgh, and contributed to a lively Arts+Ethics theme of work at that Congress. More recently, the AERG exhibited at BerlinBlue Art, an independent gallery in Berlin, Germany. Presented from 28 July 2017 to 5 August 2017, ‘Field Works’ was curated by Renata Kudlacek and Emma Barnard, both AERG members, and consisted of visual, video, sonic, written, and interactive works meant to both challenge and inform, probe and provoke. Pieces included films about the experience of being a minority and having and being treated for cancer, images about the expectations imposed on physicians, images exploring death and the human devotion to longevity, a poem about our evolving relationship with water which is so essential to our wellbeing, a game to help young scientists and doctors develop the skills and confidence needed to engage with diverse publics, and much more.

One can surmise from this brief description that the pieces strongly engage with the themes which orient the work of the Mason Institute, particularly that of the Ethics, Art, Culture and Law theme, which is comprised of a range of projects examining the interactions between cultural practices and governance frameworks, including ethics and law, as well as the significance of the former to the latter. In the coming weeks and months, the Motley Coat will host a number of guest blogs from AERG members wherein they explain their working methods, the significance of ethical questions to their work, and the utility of their involvement with the AERG.

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