Trish Scott: Becoming data


Trish Scott makes videos, performances and events that explore the production and authorship of cultural knowledge. With a background in social anthropology Scott works experimentally with others, often setting in motion collaborative or participatory encounters which aim to unsettle conventional patterns of thought and behaviour. The resulting artworks create narratives from the space between these encounters and their documents. Scott is making a new work for Whitstable Biennale 2016, and this is the first of a short series of posts about the making of the work.

It’s July 2015. I’m in the Touchdown café at Canterbury Christ Church University about to meet a psychologist, Dr Ian Hocking, who wants to study my creativity. We meet and he outlines his research. I find it disconcerting that Ian can move so seamlessly from studying how cats plan, to studying how I create. His research titles read awkwardly to me: Domestic cats (Felis catus) do not show causal understanding in a string-pulling task; Modality switching and negation: ERP evidence for modality-specific simulations during negation processing; Have you tried ‘brain breathing’? Structured thinking and problem construction.

My mind wanders to the observation chamber he’s talking about. There are chunks of food dangling from strings. And a cat (or is that me?) rigged up to various bits of software. This is starting to feel like a sci-fi plot.

The reality of seeing the psychology lab in the flesh brings my daydream crashing down. The observation lab (not chamber) looks like a dentist’s waiting room. However, talking across the lab I discover that my premonition wasn’t completely mad – as well as being a scientist Ian is in fact a sci-fi writer.

In seeing creativity in terms of four discrete variables (fluency, flexibility, quality and originality) I wonder how Ian makes sense of his own creative practice. For me, creativity isn’t something to pin down or measure, or something that can be neatly compartmentalised as Ian seems to be indicating.

I agree to become a participant in his research. Whilst I’m concerned that this makes me an accomplice to scientific positivism, my curiosity wins over.

Ian will study me as I make an artwork.

The artwork can be about anything.

From day one I know it will be rooted (somehow) in our developing relationship.

Fast forward four months and our roles are muddied. We’re speculating on what I might produce for the Biennale. We’re trying to fictionalise the process we’re going through. Ian, in the mode of sci-fi writer, is writing me, the artist, and him, the scientist, into a plot. This is the moment when he spells out my fate:

Ian: I’m writing a story set in a sci-fi universe. I wrote a plan….. Everyone dies…. If you turn off the entertaining parts of the story it’s a future psychology department where you take the brain of someone, slice it up, put it into a computer and then enter the computer and see the world from that person’s point of view. What happens to the identity of the person going into the machine, is that when the brain receives the pattern of the other person they essentially become the other person resurrected. It’s a way of solving the age-old problem of phenomenology in psychology.
Trish: So how does this relate to you and me?
Ian: Well, an artist turns up who wants to be the first person to have their brain scanned. The problem is, to scan in enough detail you have to kill the person – you slice the brain up into nine pieces and look at all the connections. The psychologist says “no – that’s not ethical we can’t do that”. So the artist kills herself and then I guess there’s some kind of a midnight raid on a morgue. And then the psychologist becomes the artist resurrected.
Trish: So you’re proposing to kill me off, take over my brain and finish my artwork?
Ian: But is it the artist or the psychologist? That’s the question.
Trish: True.
Ian: There’s something very uncomfortable about this. Almost creepy. I’ll start talking about…. introspecting as you. But it’s not you introspecting, but me……. putting words in your mouth, thoughts in your head…..
Trish: The creepiness doesn’t bother me. If you want to kill me, kill me….. I’m fine with it.
Ian: Really?………
Trish: Yes. Surely it’s just a different form of you articulating how I construct reality. Except you’re doing it as a writer rather than a psychologist….. I take this all as part of being analysed.

I wonder what it means to be killed off on the page?
I am now metaphorically dead.