Art, Design and Health: The Microbial Verdict

I’m currently in London and this weekend I presented as part of a panel at Arebyte Gallery, responding to Zoë Hough’s exhibition The Microbial Verdict: You Live Until You Die. The premise of this speculative design project is the invention of a new pill that can decode when a brain has deteriorated enough for it’s owner to lose their functioning identity and then instigate their subsequent death from the inside – the user lives until they die. Under new government policy it becomes mandatory for all persons reaching the age of 65 to take this pill, resultantly saving billions of pounds of NHS cash in dementia and alzheimer’s care.

Obviously this proposition is fantasy and Zoë Hough makes it clear that this is not how she  thinks we should respond to the increasingly pressing problem of brain health in an aging population. However such a pill may soon be a scientific reality and this exhibition of  design objects seeks to interrogate some of the ethical conundrums that come had-in-hand with medical innovation.

A photo posted by arebyte (@arebyte) on

Our panel was composed of three speakers each responding to issues of Art, Design and Health in unique ways. Zoë herself opened up discussion by asserting how speculative design can act as a catalyst for debate, allowing us to imagine the consequences of things that have not yet happened and helping us to reconfigure our attitude to issues such as aging. Designer Chloe Meineck gave a much more practical perspective on how innovative design can help to improve the lives of dementia sufferers, through her own project Music Memory Box. This design invention acts as a memory aid by attaching music to objects, capitalizing on recent research that suggests musical memory is one of the last brain functions to deteriorate in dementia. During my own fifteen minute contribution, I attempted to open up the relation between brain health, design and curation and to make the case for pushing the ethical boundaries of how we probe difficult issues around brain health in the arts. You can download the notes from my talk here: Art, Design and Health: The Microbial Verdict @ Arebyte Gallery.

Ultimately I felt like this event gave a small insight into the many faces of art, design and health; from the speculative to the instrumental, including the role that curation can play in bringing these differing approaches together. As our panel chair Alison Thomson observed, each of the contributors aimed to challenge how people respond to the behavior changes that occur during dementia or mental illness, either by offering practical solutions for improved communication, or by encouraging a political and social rethink of how we treat the issue of illness.

Featured image: The Microbial Verdict :You Live Until You Die, Zoë Hough, 2015

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