Thursday Morning’s Student Presentations: Rachel Armstrong

Following a relaxing warm up by Chris, Dr Rachel Armstrong is presenting on the Cytoplasmic Manifesto: is it possible to develop a feminist methodology of science through performance art?

Rachel has put on a doctors white coat. She’s talking about why the subject interests her. When she was a practising Dr she says she was she was speaking in code, when she walked on to the ward she found that the social science and theoritical science, what she’d learned in books, which she loved, were two different things.

When science goes from theory to practice we ended up treating people very badly, she says.

She was spurned by change, change she wanted to bring about. She’s put up a slide of a piece for the student BMJ.

That article was extraordinary she says in the response, heaps of mail she got from doctors.. searching and critical letters. She hit a nerve. All the doctors were looking for alternatives to practicing medicine and were looking to the arts for answers.

“I am not alone” is one of the emails she’s flagged up.

There was another communique that brought her attention when she allegedly said all astronauts should be sterilised.

Medicine is a theatrical branch of science, the practitioner is a performer, Rachel says. So we expect appreciation. Slide up called the medical art of looking.

She started drawing as a result of trying to make sense of the theory versus practical of what she was observing she says.

Thing about being a doctor is you have an intrusive gaze she points out. “How are your bowels today” are some of the questions asked with such alacrity. You also can unravel the inside of a person – technology has allowed an invisible anatomical invasion – molecular semeiotic.

She was disturbed to hear that the gene chip is on the market. Slide up of the 1949 code of ethics.

Whose standard of anatomy are we looking at, Rachel asks. She say these are deeply problematic. A slide of leprosy is showing. She went to a leprosy colony spending time with patients with sever deformities

She’s describing the results of leprosy – bone tissue etc and what happens. Talking about intense physiotherapy and her early exposure to this changed here.

How different would leprosy be If the stigmata was removed.

How could convention be challenged, Rachel asks.

She says they’ve been a split between the humanities arts and science but she disagrees . says some interesting things happening that bridge that gap. And that art can do things science couldn’t.

Showing image of ear a growing within an arm – an example of biotech design. Very strong photo.

Talks about divide in two cultures she says. Different instruments being used to complement each other. She’s interested in cellular activity and the anatomical philosophy.

Describing a cell structure – thing you’d see in a biology lecture.

Since 1950s gene speak, Richard Dawkins quoted, she says there is now an interesting way of defining someone – using map of human genome…a reference to our lives

She had problems with Dawkins selfish gene notion it takes an amoral dispassionate look at humans.

Rachel adds: Richard Dawkins says because women have cytoplasm they give birth. She says these are value judgements that are not to taken as truisms.

She wants to challenge invisible paradigms and was thrilled to hear about New Cell biology a new area of study.

Talks about new techniques of analysis emerging . Comments that there is a hunt for new aliens forms and whether they are based on left spiral DNA.

Dr Craig Venter found new species of bacteria, she adds saying there’s not much new in what he has done here but that new techniques have emerged to find them.

Cells are a “we” and not an “I”.. She says cytoplasm was more complex. From 1959s to 1980s there is a discourse of science that fails to explain the cytoplasm beyond its mysticism.

She feels cytoplasm has feminine traits about it .. quoting Jean Francois Lyotard 1924-1998 on paralogy and pagan ie a credible branch of science.

She’s looking to see if she can find a performance method to explain DNA. Talks about one event where they used kitchen utensils to make DNA.

Shows pictures of chickens and free range eggs and the interesting problem it poses within new science . Time to look to new practices, non hierachical, more inclusive quoting Roger Malina on democratisation of science.

Rachel says SMARTlab is democratising biotechnology.

Perhaps she says she’ll be in a position rewrite anatomy and the place to do this could be this space. Might even show, she concludes that we have been visited by aliens.

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