The Stem Cell NetWork II

Project description
Spatial communication

Landscape of Expectations

The Installation
Ideas → Production



Living Pictures
follow the life of
the installation



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The Stem Cell NetWork I

    The Installation
Researcher - Designer



The Stem Cell NetWork II
Researcher - Designer

The project group consisted of eight researchers from different social scientific disciplines, each of which examined a social/cultural aspect of stem cell research in Denmark. In cooperation with the researchers, spatial designer Birte Dalsgaard’s role was to create a project which could communicate the problems and issues investigated in the research projects. It was crucial that the research communication was not in time and place conducted after the research process, but rather integrated in the research practice. The objective of this integration was to put the social scientific knowledge into play in a new way, but also that the communication in itself should have the potential to transform the knowledge production, since this knowledge in the making could be challenged, resisted or discussed as part of its creation.

In the effort to create new and different media for this communication, ‘translation’ was a key concept. In the particular social scientific use of this concept, which was influential for the whole research project, the crucial point about translation is that a shift from one medium to another is productive, because it will always create different or additional meanings. It is not possible to make a complete 1:1 translation, rather something will always be added, lost or changed in the process.

Designer Birte Dalsgaard focused primarily on the form and design of the communication product. In order to understand the researchers’ work and knowledge production, it was however necessary to develop work methods which could make the cooperation between designer and researchers fruitful. We, so to say, had to learn to speak each other’s language. For this purpose, the designer developed a number of visual brainstorming tools which could be used in meetings about the installation and its content. Still, it was difficult to get to the core and formulate usable research points, that is, research problems or ideas, which were simple enough to be spatially communicated.

It was therefore necessary for Maja Horst, as one of the researchers, to work closely together with the designer so that we could find the right questions or answers to illustrate. The development of the final ideas and concepts for the room were therefore carried out in a very close collaboration between designer and researcher. These roles became so closely interwoven that it is possible to speak about some kind of hybrids as researcher-designer and designer-researcher.


A brainstorming game
- employed at an early stage in the group's work with the installation


Another brainstorming game
- employed later in the process for the conceptual development of the rooms and their content

The 80 m2 test model, which was The Stem Cell NetWork I, was imagined as a model of principles which made us able to test the spatial design and the bodily interaction in simplified forms. We chose to construct such a model, because it is necessary to test these ideas in vivo, rather than working with downscaled models where it would only be possible to guess what the reaction of the visitors in the imagined room might be. We therefore wanted to test the principles for participation and the understanding of the concept from the following questions:

  • Can the visitors make sense of the installation – or put differently: can we design it so it is possible to make some sense of it?
  • Will the visitors join the play and participate in the game – or are modern people too unfamiliar with this form of physical interaction?
  • Will the visitors catch some of the overall points about the social shaping of new technologies?
Even if we were primarily interested in the principles of communication, it was necessary to get the atmosphere in the installation reasonably right and get the sensory experiences to work. We therefore tried to create the spatial outlay and find the materials to match the impressions we wanted, but we had to take the conditions for building the test model into account. The model wasn’t quite built in a 1:1 scale as it was originally conceived and we couldn’t use the materials we would have liked. Rather, the test model had to be fitted to the time constraints and the budgetary and physical frames for the project. It is, however, important that these constraints are not just seen as regrettable cuts in an otherwise complete concept. Instead, the limitations of the communication have to be understood as an integrated part of the task. It is of no use for us as designer-researchers to excuse bad communication with a lack of resources. Of course, resources come with limitations – but this is a challenge in the same way as translating complex research-based knowledge into spatial concepts. The test is to find out what works, how, and in which circumstances. It is, however, important that visitors are made aware that they take part in an experiment, because it is of importance in relation to their expectations, but also to the way we as researcher-designers try to communicate with an audience. It is not a process which can be split into research and design, but is instead an integrated process in which we learn about both things at the same time




contact: Associate professor Maja Horst, 3815 2826 /                                The project is supported by the Danish Research Council for the Hunanities