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Working Together

Untitled, video still. Working Together research project, 2021. Louise Mackenzie.

In collaboration with scientists Jessica Saville and Gina Abdelaal and support from Kathryn Garner, Rachel Ranson, Justin Perry and Iain Sutcliffe from Northumbria University’s Department of Applied Sciences, artist Louise Mackenzie has been developing research which connects concepts of remoteness and abstraction to working with human cell lines as part of CNoS’ Working Together project.

Over a period of 6 months during the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, using remote exercises and discussions through Zoom, imaginative approaches to working with human cells were explored, generating insights into the processes, ethics and regulations around working with human cell lines. Esoteric laboratory diaries were used to draw attention to overlooked aspects of human cell care, whilst speculative exercises enabled a reimagining of the liveliness of human cells, leading to discussions around ancestry, identity and the necessity of detachment.

The work is ongoing. Scientists from both Northumbria and Newcastle Universities attended a clay dig event in September 2021 with Louise Mackenzie and ceramic artist, Rosie McLachlan, where an unfolding intention of the project is to immortalise human cell lines through art not science. The project feeds into Mackenzie’s ongoing research, Offering the Body, which challenges patriarchal and anthropocentric assumptions in biotechnological research through offering the artist’s (cellular) body as donated object to projects in both science and art. Louise presented early outcomes of the wider research at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in October, 2020, as a paper and through discussion with a panel of international artists whose research focuses on use of the body as material. The paper and a transcript of the panel discussion are now published in the Journal of Technoetic Arts, Volume 18, Numbers 2-3, October 2020.