Field Research



The roundtable began within ‘the micro-macro world of the Algae,’ introduced by Zhinous Rowshan, who is collaborating with a PhD student of the limnology department of the University of Vienna.

An alga is a plant, an organism without roots, single cell or multi cellular. Zhinous has produced descriptive work on the research processes surrounding Algae - containing stories about collecting samples. She mentioned the flumes, the processes in the flume, including the disposition of ceramic tiles in row where the Algae grow and the incorporation of mayflies. Data, graphs, setups resembling of the ceramic tiles, and intriguing details came to the table. Several images and drawings of different types of Algae were presented, and within them smoothly we were entering the subject of objectivity.


Virgil Widrich presented the book ‘Objectivity’ by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, (New York; Cambridge Mass.: Zone Books, 2007) questioning and engaging with what objectivity means in the history of scientific images. How is the historicity of objectivity, and how does history operate? Here, we refrain from referring to a singular objectivity. Through the text, Widrich told of the history of drawing and the ways objectivity relates to filmmaking and photography: A kind of travelling in time, from the quicksilver drops; Arthur Norrington’s experiments; the ideas of symmetry and assumptions that photography later questioned; to contemporary subjects emerging within REM techniques. The discussion drew from the following points:
1. Observation of nature (The drawing of the perfect flower, which may not exist without a requisite criteria of perfection. One rose vs. photographing 100 roses. What is still a rose? A finalised idea of something?)
2. Mechanical objectivity (manipulation of images, photographic and digital techniques)
3. Trained judgment (How to see if something is abnormal. What is outside the norm? X-ray / REM techniques and problems in identifying a range).
Reflections on centered around: collective imperialism, concrete studying, learning; parameters, how to look at things; pictures, data, and the nuances dealt with in the definition of characteristics.
Bernd Kräftner referred us to a work of his involving coma patients, and the people closely related to their worlds, in which facial imaging is instrumented in the interpretation of emotional responses, situating itself inside the hospital, and the trained and untrained judgments surrounding those who may not decide for themselves. Daily experiments were practiced at the hospital, exhibiting to the patients a film, whilst the facial reactions of the patients are recorded through photographs taken at regular intervals. Familiars, doctors and workers at the hospital, provided their interpretations of the emotions in each given image, resulting in a composite pattern of data drawing the subjective and objective opinion / decision; and the relational distances and norms to the patients of those decisions. What do these images then mean? Are they part of reality? Can be seen as a collective sensor showing results? Is there a brain activity between the brain and the smile? Are they reacting to the outer world? Who is actually legitimated to assess, decree and exhibit the legitimacy of the research? How do relational roles to the patient influence the trained readings of responses? Is it true data? How do the mechanical devises act here?
Paola Otero’s presentation counted with animated drawings, and is experienced as a live performance story telling of Anaemia. This presentation will be continued in a next session...


Image: Paola Otero

Web report: Art & Science


"Roundtable" concept