Medical equipment has played a key role in many scientific revolutions that have extended our means of observation beyond the five human senses. Nevertheless, the current supply chain limits access, creativity and customization. Citizen science, hacker/maker movements, DIY culture activists and investigative artists have addressed this problem by sharing open designs of small scientific instruments and innovative equipment. These efforts are in line with the larger movement of frugal science, which advocates the development and distribution of affordable and accessible scientific tools to tackle Global Health issues.
Questions such as “Do I own my body and all it is made of and produces?” may seem to have straightforward answers, but they cannot be taken for granted in the context of pharmacological treatments, where health and genetic data is collected, stored and commercialized by corporations. These issues of control, ownership and governance of one’s own body, all of which have serious individual repercussions, especially in the case of marginalized bodies, can be effectively raised through artistic practices.
Contemporary investigative artists are also engaging discussions around policies of access to healthcare, global issues related to development aid through training and empowerment (from the socially marginalized to the ethnically racialized minorities of both heavily industrialized and less industrialized countries), the claim of corporal autonomy, “xenopolitical” subversion and the desacralization of science and academic medicine. Artists remind us that subversion, or at least established points of resistance, is a precondition for citizens to take control of the challenges posed by science.
Medical professionals, living labs and open science communities appreciate these creative mindsets, as well as their unique approaches to discussing ethical values and equity in access to healthcare. But these fragile collaborations still have difficulty finding dedicated frameworks for fruitful production.
The ART4MED project intends to foster these encounters between art practices and biomedical health research—in a fast-changing societal environment, under the influence of big data, material and technical innovation. It addresses the exclusion of marginalized groups from healthcare, global migrations, collapses in environmental health and the need for radical care in these pandemic times.