Helen Pynor and Jimmy Breen testing the R-Tube device used for collecting exhaled breath, ANAT SAHMRI residency, Adelaide, 2021.
Helen Pynor has been commissioned by ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology) to undertake a 9-month residency at SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide) working in the laboratory of genomics scientist Dr Jimmy Breen, and in collaboration with legal scholar and bioethicist De Carolyn Johnston from The University of Tasmania.
Pynor’s new work draws attention to breath and the porosity of lungs. Although viral shedding has come under intense focus during the current pandemic, we also routinely exhale our own DNA as small molecules into the air around us, and in turn inhale DNA molecules exhaled by others. This DNA consists of our own ‘shed’ DNA and DNA from the microbes that inhabit our respiratory tracts. This everyday passage and exchange of DNA through our lungs is one of life’s unnoticed ‘promiscuities’, a broader collective ‘breathing’ in which we are in constant and dynamic exchange with others and the world. A clear boundary between our interior bodies and the world is illusory.
During her residency Pynor has hacked an ‘R-tube’ device, normally used to collect and condense the outbreaths of a single patient, but in this project used performatively to enable Pynor and Breen to breath into it simultaneously for 10 minutes to collect a shared breath sample. The DNA from this collective breath has been extracted and is currently being sequenced in Breen’s laboratory to determine the origins of the exhaled DNA. Sequencing is likely to reveal DNA of shared origin from Pynor, Breen and their collective respiratory biota.
Pynor is developing a video work using the performative potential of the R-tube device, alongside a work using the genomic data generated by the DNA sequencing as raw material, and a haptic sculptural work that uses moisture and air movement to evoke the passage of air in and out of the lungs.
This project is supported by ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology) and SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Insitute).
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