Wednesday 17 August 2022 4:30 to 5:30pm AEST
Vanessa Bartlett WiP Paper 2.
Host: Associate Professor Elizabeth Stephens
Respondent: Claire Hooker
A recording of the Webinar can be found at
Cultural Imaginaries of Microbial Hacking and the Art of Kathy High
The brain-gut connection and microbiome are pressing topics in emerging science and popular cultural imaginaries. Yet research suggests that 40% of people worldwide experience a gastrointestinal complaint that defies a clear diagnosis. As medicine grapples to understand this dysfunction in our collective digestion, ‘wellness industry’ products like probiotics, which promise to adapt the microbial lining of the gut, have become increasingly profitable. Stomach Ache is a research-driven curatorial project that asks how an expanded definition of creative practice (visual art, curating, and informal approaches to thinking creatively about one’s health) might help to reframe cultural perspectives on digestive dysfunction. It shifts understanding of creativity beyond something practised exclusively by artists, highlighting creative agency and experimentation as adaptive responses to complex, undiagnosed illnesses, and an affordance of cultural imaginaries that implicate the microbiome as an adaptable or hackable space. This paper will focus on an emerging case study from the project: the artwork of Kathy High. High’s lived experience of Crohn’s disease—a condition that causes chronic inflammation of the bowel—shapes several of her artworks, which speculate on ways to remake her microbiome via emerging technologies like faecal transplantation. High’s work is associated with the field of bioart, where boundaries between scientific expertise and amateur experimentation are collapsed, offering a useful framework for theorising people’s relationship to their health beyond formal medical environments.
Dr Vanessa Bartlett’s research-driven curatorial projects explore how technologies shape wellbeing, resulting in expansive bodies of work across exhibitions, workshops, essays and books. Her exhibitions at major international arts spaces, such as FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), UNSW Galleries and Furtherfield, have been seen by over 40,000 people and have featured in The Guardian, Creative Review and BBC Radio 4. She is currently McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, where she leads the Stomach Ache project.