93% Human

'93% Human' (video still)

Dr Helen Pynor. Juried Artist

Artist Statement

‘93% Human’ is a media artwork exploring the multispecies nature of being ‘human’, the ‘promiscuity’ of DNA, and DNA data as a generative tool, through an investigation of DNA we exhale in our breath and inhale from others. The work highlights the intimacy of our unnoticed exchanges with human and non-human others, and ‘contamination’ as a necessary condition of being.

A performance video depicts artist Helen Pynor and bioinformatician Jimmy Breen breathing into a scientific glassware condenser device, to collect a shared breath sample. DNA extracted from this shared sample was found to comprise 93% human DNA, with the remaining 7% belonging to around 6700 identified microbial species. Composer Amanda Cole has created a microtonal, polyphonic choral score for classically-trained singers, who use their own respiratory tracts to sing and whisper the taxonomic names of hundreds of the species present in Pynor and Breen’s shared breath sample. This multispecies community is brought into the gallery as an 8-channel sound work. Videos depict DNA nucleotide data generated from Pynor and Breen’s shared breath sample, in ongoing flux and movement, while scientific glassware objects offer metaphoric breathing ‘organs’, referencing Pynor and Breen’s original breath collection performance.

About the artists

Dr Helen Pynor is an interdisciplinary Artist and Researcher whose practice explores philosophically and experientially ambiguous zones, such as the life-death boundary, the intersubjective nature of organ transplantation, and the animate-inanimate boundary in relation to prosthetics. Pynor works with living and ‘semi-living’ cells, organs and biomolecules such as DNA, and in a recent work her own surgically excised bone material. She works across installation, sculpture, photography, video, media art, microscopy and performance. Pynor frequently undertakes in-depth residencies and collaborations with scientists in scientific and clinical institutions, such as The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden. Her work has been exhibited widely internationally including at Tekniska Museet (National Museum of Science and Technology) Stockholm; ZKM | Center of Art and Media, Karlsruhe; Experimenta International Triennial of Media Art, Australia; Beijing Media Art Biennale; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts; FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) Liverpool UK; Science Gallery Dublin; Science Gallery London; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney; and ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art). Pynor has received an Honorary Mention at Prix Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, and national awards in Australia.

Amanda Cole is a composer of experimental instrumental and electronic Art Music. Her compositions feature microtonal structures, overtones, interference beats and fusions of electronic and acoustic timbres. She writes her own interactive software and works in collaboration with other artists for New Media projects. Amanda has a Bachelor of Music (Hons.1) and a PhD in Composition from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She is currently a sessional lecturer in composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Sydney University.

Associate Professor Jimmy Breen is a bioinformatician and geneticist, and Chief Data Scientist, Black Ochre Data Labs at Telethon Kids and The Australian National University

Credits: Dr Jimmy Breen and Dr Amanda Cole

URL: http://www.helenpynor.com/

ISEA2024 acknowledges the Turrbal and Yugara as the First Nations owners of the lands where the symposium will be held. We pay our respects to their elders, lores, customs and creation spirits. We also acknowledge and pay respects to all First Nations peoples across the continent and beyond Australian shores.