Being Human explores the understanding of what it means to be humans in the 21st century. Exploring how we think and feel about ourselves and our relationship with the world. Being Human exhibition is divided into four sections, Genetics, Minds & Bodies, Infection, and Environmental Breakdown. It is divided to express the idea that despite our differences, we are all connected and living in the same world. They express the various perspectives and common identities in the world, from disabled people to activists and scientists. They also explore the benefits and negatives of the new forms of medical knowledge developed around the world and our changing relationships with ourselves and one another. We start to question who to trust, what, and who to believe as the world’s knowledge and technology develops throughout the years.
This section of the exhibition is about genetics and our knowledge about our genetic inheritance. An artist that is included in this section of the exhibition and explores the idea of genetics and inheritance is Tasmin van Essen, Van Essen creates ceramic sculptures exploring hereditary health conditions. The surfaces and shapes of these ceramics suggest a different health condition that could be inherited: the brittle bones of osteoporosis, the rapid cells of cell division in cancer, or the flaky skin of psoriasis. Tasmin van Essen creates visual representations of these health conditions that the audience could see and touch, creating a clearer and better understanding of these health conditions.
A gene-editing kit is also shown within this section of the exhibition, Biohacking collective The Odin sells this kit allowing the buyer to edit DNA using a technique called CRISPR. This item makes us question biomedicine and the science and technology that is developed outside the labs and the potential of obtaining these sources of items that could edit genetics.
Minds & Bodies contain artwork reflecting the idea of mental health, the body, and how we look at ourselves and one another as society continues to change. An example of an artwork that expresses this idea is Dolly Sen’s ‘Help the Normals and Dignity’, which shows a plastic collecting tin that says ‘Help the Normals’ and a tablet cardboard packaging that says ‘Dignity’. It challenges the preconceptions of mental health conditions and their treatment. The label of the packaging reflects the artist’s opinion on the approach of how mental difference is treated and looked at.
It also includes a redeveloped design of the accessible icon, designed by Brian Glenny, Sara Hendren, and Tim Ferguson Sauder. These design activists redesigned the accessible icon as they did not agree with the idea of the wheelchair user on the icon being immobile and passive. Instead, this was redesigned to reflect movement within the wheelchair user. It draws us attention to how people are treated and portrayed as due to illnesses and disabilities, it makes us think about society’s approach to mental illness and disabilities.
This section explores infection, our opinions, and feelings on infections, and how they affect how we look at one another. It features Basse Stittgen’s ‘Blood Objects’ series, a series of small objects made from HIV-positive blood alongside the stories of each donor. Each is made from the amount of blood that would be given in a single donation.
It also includes Kia LaBeija’s photograph ‘Eleven’. LaBeija’s work focuses on her identity as a black woman living with HIV, she was born HIV-positive and was told that she would not live to go to prom. LaBeija’s photograph is a self-portrait of herself in her prom dress whilst a doctor is taking her blood. Her bright red dress symbolizes her survival as she lives to attend her prom. It brings us to the attention of these infections such as HIV and the struggles of people living with infections such as these.
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