A creative frame of reference


I’m writing to you from my mobile studio; the water’s edge on the Fife Coastal Path.

It is a pleasure to let you know there are now four researchers who have come to the table, curious to engage in regular art-science-life conversations from their homes (work spaces) to mine. The first and most important question I have for each of them is Are You Ok? I’m not interested in the easily delivered ‘fine.’ I am interested in the granular and the potentially uncomfortable answers, the ones that speak of where we are at right now. From that starting point we can sail anywhere together, anchored to one another and to ourselves.

I have a lot of questions. One of them is often, “where do I start?” Even though I ask this question on the daily right now, the answer to myself is always: start with where you are and use what you have. I’m curious to observe what life is like for these researchers, what they can share with me about drug discovery and neglected tropical diseases. I’m very open to having my world view cracked wide open, scrambled and recomposed. I can only hope without expectation that they are too.

Thus far I have been introduced to some mind blowing concepts such as, ‘everything is chemical’ and ‘the body is a sophisticated chemical machine.’ I’m learning that there are locations in the body referred to as immune privileged sites where certain parasites love to live, as if high on a hill away from the recurring flood of the immune system’s protective activities. Amazing! These ideas have me spinning on my axis, uttered with as much conviction as I would say, ‘everything is art.’


Artist Emily Fong's unconventional barge of paper, gloves and ears, in the soft foam on a beach

This creative discovery process thus far hinges on compassionate listening and an attempt to orientate ourselves surrounded, at a distance, by new people and ideas. The laboratory and the studio have been relocated and turned inside out but we are most definitely in and of the world. Anything these researchers and I bring to the table is valuable and open for investigation. The human imagination has the powerful capacity to materialise concepts and space and it feels like a good time to remember that.

Even though the scientists are at the table with me, where is the table and what does it look like? So as to feel like this discovery process isn’t entirely virtual, I have pushed the barge out conceptually and created a table: an extrasensory platform/situational thinking machine. I find it helpful at the moment to reflect upon my frame of reference and to experiment playfully with ways to process this experience. Without access to life as usual, the whole world is the laboratory and the gallery has no walls. This table, like an ordinance survey grid, is present in these shifting sands to help anchor us in the liminal ebb and flow of 2020, each coloured quarter corresponding to a researcher as I listen deeply and respond creatively.