Linda Wallace on Tue, 13 Jul 2004 07:24:34 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> interview with artist Trish Adams

Trish Adams is an adventurous artist who I met while in Brisbane, Australia.

I asked her to describe the work she will show in Tallinn at ISEA:

"Wave Writer" is the latest in my series of interactive works that explore
both contemporary and obsolete technologies, and scientific processes.

Subtitled: 'an experiment for vital force #02', the work takes the form of a
playful search for this force - referencing and mimicking past scientific
methodologies. It makes use of a machine previously used to record
oscillations and other small temporal intervals.

On site in Tallinn the real-time viewer interacts with the work by stepping
on a foot pump and thus recording their presence as Œwave writing¹ --
displacing a pen which is making a continuous line on a loop of paper. Parts
of the machinery are also activated by a movement sensor by the arrival of a
viewer into the space. Meanwhile, internet viewers/users can trigger a dot
matrix printer in the Tallinn installation which churns out a sheet of
printer paper as a tangible residue of their virtual presence. The sudden
activity of the dot matrix printer usually surprises the on-site
participants and, via web cam, the on-line viewers can observe the actions
and reactions taking place in Tallinn.
Over the period of the installation, as more visitors to the website
activate the dot matrix printer, the pile of paper grows and begins to
spread across the installation space.

(Linda): How has your sculptural background shaped your thinking in the work
you are doing now, in terms of the materiality of 'things' -- from machines
to stem cells -- and the materiality of 'processes¹, as well as issues of

About 3 years ago I began collecting obsolete scientific machines called
kymographs that were being discarded in the University skip. Initially they
appealed to me aesthetically as sculptural objects but when I explored their
history I became fascinated by their analogue, machinic functions from a
bygone era of research. I started to consider the ways in which they had
been used as Œtranslatory devices in early scientific attempts to locate,
map and master the internal reactivity¹ of the body.

In "Wave Writer" I am exploring the comparison between those 'hands-on'
processes and contemporary, postindustrial transactions that involve the
body over distance. When remote viewers access "Wave Writer" via the
Internet they eliminate the physical boundaries of their location whilst
leaving a tangible trace of their 'having been there' as a paper residue in
the real-time Tallinn installation. This circularity of access enables me to
blur the conventional boundaries of the gallery and question various
dimensions of spatiality and physicality.

My on-going investigations into corporeality and the materiality of the
human body probe both the unknown possibilities of virtual presence and
recent developments in biotechnology such as stem cell research.

(Linda): What is the work you are currently involved in with the heart

During my recent collaboration at the School of Biomedical Sciences, The
University of Queensland I collected microscope image data of heart cells
beating 'in-vitro'. This work was inspired by the latest research that
indicates adult stem cells are capable of 'changing fates' and becoming
other types of cells.

Stem cells were taken from my blood and cultured in the laboratory where I
then added a unique mix of the drug 5'AZT and cardiac differentiating
factors developed by my scientific collaborator, Dr Vic Nurcombe. We
incubated these cultures and after 5-6 days my stem cells developed into
heart cells. Subsequently they began to beat, synchronise and cluster so
that I could watch them throbbing in real-time under the microscope!

(Linda): Are these cultured cells 'yours' ? how do you think about them?
Does this differ to the way the scientist you are working with think about
them? How has this 'working in the lab' changed your practice?

These are key question that have arisen during my research - how human are
these cells, and are they still 'me' when they are out there in the petri
dish? Such issues are extremely complex and emotionally charged. Clinically
the cells are still mine ­ as demonstrated by the case of Henrietta Lacks
(1) - but on another level they are also symbolic of 'everyones'

When I started to learn about cell behaviours I began to ask myself if the
cells were indeed sentient beings - I saw that they had definite 'likes' and
'dislikes' which both Vic and I referred to in human terms and we also
definitely respected their preferences!

I found it unsettling to identify anthropomorphic characteristics at a
microscopic level and it has lead me to inform myself about definitions of
'living' and 'non-living' organisms in response to this sentient being
issue. It seems to me that although scientists may have a different,
specific focus on the outcomes of their research many are as intrigued by
these cell behaviour issues as I am.

During my experience as an artist/researcher in the lab I have been moved
and mesmerised and filled with trepidation handling my own cells. I am now
striving to create an artwork that will resonate with the viewer and also
express the powerful impact this research has had on me.

Thanks Trish. 

³Wave Writer² will be shown from 14th - 22nd of August at the Rotermann¹s
Salt Storage Arts Centre, in Tallinn as part of ISEA 2004 and: (website not fully active/ready until installation dates
Trish Adams <>


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