Natalie Jeremijenko: Reframing health & the body

Natalie Jeremijenko (Bio, more) is an artist/engineer whose work explores the relationships that constitute socio-technological change. She’s been recognized as one of the 100 Top Young Innovators by MIT Technology Review. Previous installations have explored everything from ubiquitous computing (“Live Wire”) to “Biotech Hobbyist” that aimed to empower the public to become more involved in doing science and science politics, to work engaged in open source robotics, to the effects of the environment on gene expression through the “One Trees” project.

One of her most recent projects is the “Environmental Health Clinic” introduced here:

She describes the politics of the environmental movement as “suicide environmentalism”, that is, all about doing less water, paper, gas, etc. In contrast she’s interested in “doing good” (yes, we can problematize that one as well!) that examines the “imaginative and playful” things that people can do themselves. One of the key insights she has is we need to interrogate the ‘relationship’ with natural systems more than just think about doing less. Furthermore, much of the environmental movement(s) emphasis has been on global problems and the Environmental Health Clinic is exploring those local interventions that could have the desired impact.

Here is Jeremijenko providing an overview and you can see the types of interventions she ‘prescribes’:

Notice the explicit re-framing of health and the body. Rather than the biomedical body as self-contained, the individual, she’s re-framing the body as an extension into the physical environment and the “re-institutionalizing” of health. External, shared resources, participation, feedback, monitoring technology bureaucrats, reshaping urban environmental eco-systems. Here in “Urban Space Station” deals with hacking the urban environment.

Now, take a look at how we talk about health reform in the US. Does the meaning of health have much to do with how Jeremijenko is framing ‘health’. Rather than dismiss this work as “just art” I think we find some important insights into how people are increasingly thinking about health, their relationships with the body, the body’s relationship with the environment, responsibility, engagement, in sum, the politics of health versus health policy. There are important signals here and we might want to explore the work of other artists, authors, and cultural producers rather than limiting ourselves to the same circular firing squad of health wonks (not to be overly dismissive, that’s not my point here but innovation needs to include concepts and re-framing). Jeremijenko may not provide answers but she does provide a diagnosis or diagnostic platform for thinking otherwise. Bet she won’t win an X-Prize but she may may have more innovative insights than what we’ll find from internally driven health discourses.

Here we have an exchange between Jeremijenko and Lawrence Krauss on science and society issues. Krauss is a proponent of the “public understanding of science” paradigm, otherwise known as PUS (hint, I’m not a fan) versus Jeremijenko’s more politically engaged and democratic approach (my interpretation). If you’re interested in more on her work try here,


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