The Stem Cell NetWork II
Birte Dalsgaard: During my education at the Danish Academy of Design I developed an interest in Spatial Communication. I cannot quite remember where I originally got the idea. It was probably a number of different impressions, which at some point connected up to a new idea. One day Maja told me about a debate book on ‘medicalised normality’ (by Claus Moeldrup). I thought this was an exciting problem, which I used as inspiration for a project ‘The Medicine Cupboard of the Future’ at the Academy in spring 2003. The project wasn’t developed beyond sketches, but it consisted of different rooms, which the visitor had to pass through in order for the encounter between the room and the visitor to reflect the issues. For instance, the visitor had to squeeze through at one place. At other places, the rooms were of wrong sizes compared to the normal body.
Maja Horst: In 2003 I was awarded a Ph.D. on the public debate about biotechnology. One of my sources of inspiration was the international research within Public Understanding of Science which has criticised traditional science communication for being based on a ‘deficit model’, in which one-way communication in a language defined by researchers is supposed to fill the deficit of knowledge found in laypeople. At a certain point, however, I became aware that even if the content of my own research communication was about the necessity of dialogue, my chosen format was still very much characterised by monologue. When I saw Birte’s ideas for the spatial communication of the debate book about normality and medicine, I sensed the possibility of a different kind of research communication.
The Stem Cell NetWork: In 2004 we got the opportunity to develop an experiment which could connect ideas about spatial communication with the wish to create dialogical research communication. Together with 7 colleagues in humanities and social science, we took part in a research project about the cultural, social and ethical aspects of stem cell research in 2004-2007. The project was financed by the Danish Social Science Research Council and headed by Lene Koch, Department of Public Health, Copenhagen University. It took as its point of departure the conviction that stem cell research doesn’t fall from the sky as a fixed entity, but is shaped by – and shaping – the context in which it is created. The project consisted of a number of different sub-projects looking at different aspects of the creation of stem cell research. As part of this project we were granted 192.000 dkr. to experiment with spatial research communication. This led to the creation of The Stem Cell NetWork: a Social Science Laboratory in 2005. It was a test model of 80m2, consisting of 12 small rooms built from chip-board. Each room thematised a research problem from one of the sub-projects in the research group. The visitors encountered various dilemmas and messages while they were moving around in the installation, and they had to make a number of choices with their body – either by walking a specific route or carrying and using specific artefacts.
The model was built in the basement under the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School. It was shown to various interested people and tested on a number of focus groups. The process of building and testing was also documented in video. While we were building the model, we had intentions of applying for further funding in order to make a more robust version, which could be placed in public. We realised, however, that such a project would demand a lot more resources than we had access to at that time. But the work with the test model gave us a lot of experience with the process and content of spatial research communication. Among the most valuable aspects of this was the development of a working process, which made us able to translate complex research problems into relatively simple spatial concepts. We also gained a lot of practical experience with spatial communication and learned a lesson or two about scale.
The Stem Cell NetWork II: In 2006 the Strategic Research Council gave the Research Council for the Humanities 3 mill. dkr. to fund experiments with research communication. This gave us the opportunity to continue our experiments with spatial research communication. Based on our previous experience, we sketched an installation, which was considerably smaller. We decided to try to create an installation of 25 m2, based on some of the best concepts from the first installation. In June 2006 we learnt that we had been granted 558.000 dkr from the research council and work could begin. This time, however, we have to build with a much higher finish and make it more robust so that it can be placed in public for everybody to visit. Certainly, a challenge compared to the first experiment, which was safely hidden away in a Business School basement.