A new sculptural installation in the Science Museum’s ‘Who Am I?’ gallery explores the potential issues raised by the expansion of genetic screening. Pandora’s Box is the result of a collaboration between the artist, Esther Fox, and WMS researcher, Dr Felicity Boardman.
Felicity’s project, Imagining Futures, investigated the social and ethical implications of expanding genetic screening programmes, specifically related to the genetic condition Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Felicity interviewed families living with SMA and from there developed a survey which was completed by 337 participants, either adults living with SMA or family members.
Living with SMA herself, Esther contacted Felicity when she saw the project advertised. Esther has long had an interest in genetics and disability which she has explored through her art since art school. The issues explored through the Imagining Futures project resonated with Esther’s personal interests, leading to a collaborative relationship.
Pandora’s Box is a change from her previous painting and two dimensional work. The box is made from lead embossed with text about the value of life and a large double helix escapes it, made from computer punch tape. Behind the box, you can see excerpts from the research interviews.
In an interview with Culture 24, Esther stated that she hopes “the piece will encourage the public to question preconceptions about the value of disabled people’s lives and enable a more expansive idea about what it means to be human.”
Weaving together art and research, this collaboration opens up the discussion about disability, medical ethics and health research in general, to a whole new audience. Felicity says:
"Esther’s sculpture, Pandora’s Box, offers viewers a chance to engage with the themes of the Imagining Futures Research Project in a very visceral way. The materials she uses, combined with the research data, brings together both the abstract and the immediate: the perspectives of people living with genetic disease on genetic screening, with the broader themes of reductionism and selection that pervade many of the surrounding debates. Ultimately, the installation is a reflection on what it means to be human in a society in which screening is becoming increasingly commonplace."