Ethics ethics ethics (phew)

So, I’ve been talking a lot about ethics (like here and here). This is where I explain what I mean and which questions I’m grappling with.

I was trained in art history and then at Goldsmiths. My area of study has always been objects that weren’t alive (in a human sense, at least) and thus had no claim to being treated ethically. When writing, one rarely thinks about treating a sculpture ethically, perhaps more so in curating and when dealing directly with artists, but not the kind of ethics that are an integrated area in disciplines such as medicine and psychology. So I didn’t really think much about ethics before starting Moist.

Then it all became complicated. I met up with Alexandra who said: “dude, I have all this blood in my freezer from other people’s bodies.” And it was weirding her out. Cause what do you do when you’ve accepted that what is abject is still a part of a body, and that body then sits in your freezer? How do you treat it, and how do you treat it with care and respect?

We don’t know yet, but we can’t stop thinking about it. These are a couple of working questions I’ve set up for experiment methodology:

: What are the implications of departing with a part of one’s body?

: How should we approach the ownership of these parts, with whom does the ownership lie?

: How can we create an experiment setting that accommodates the ownership felt by the testee whilst not impinging on the researcher’s freedom to speculate?

: What part does anonymity play?

: What part does control play?

: How can we construct a methodology in collaboration with testees, what ethical dimensions and questions would arise from a collaborative creation?

It’s like with organ transplants, kind of. Margrit Shildrick talks about organ transplants as a deeply disturbing thing for a person’s bodily integrity. Lots of people receiving organs end up feeling deeply conflicted because the heart, lung or kidney they have is so distinctly not their own and they struggle to accept it as a part of their bodies even though it is literally embedded in them. The organ doesn’t cease being someone else’s body (even whilst being also their body).

So if the menstrual blood donated is still a part, although abject, of the body it came from, that raises lots of questions about ethical treatment of these bodies, as well as questions about privacy. Like, is it ok to post images of other people’s blood? Is it ok to use it for stuff without permission to do so?

I’m leaning towards no, but there’s also the fact that we give up parts of ourselves all the time without asking what these parts are used for. Think data; our data is plastered all over the internet and completely beyond our control. So there’s a wish for accommodating the donor’s need for security but also one for accommodating the researcher’s need for space, and loss of control (which I think is at the fore of this) remains an integral part of… well, of being human, I guess.

So that’s what I mean when I talk about ethics. More to follow.


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