Hannah Drayson



This thesis is about the relationship between human bodies and instrumental technologies that can be use to measure them. It adopts the position that instruments are technological structures that evoke and manifest particular phenomena of embodied life. However, through their history of association and use in the sciences and scientific medicine, instruments tend to be attached to a particular ontology, that of mechanical objectivity. Embarking from research into the artistic uses of physiological sensor technology in creative practices such as performance and installation art, this thesis asks whether it is possible to use instruments in a way that departs from their association with scientific objectivity. Drawing on philosophers who have developed an understanding of the relationship of instrumental technologies and human bodies as co-constructive, it explores how this model of con-construction might be understood to offer an alternative ontology for understanding the use of instruments in practices outside of science and scientific medicine. The project is therefore suggestive of degrees of freedom and flexibility that are open to exploitation by creative practices in the realm of instrumentation as an alternative to orthodox rationalisations of the value of scientific equipment as authentic, revealing and objective. The major contribution of the thesis is that transfers and synthesises arguments and evidence from the history and philosophy of sciences that serve to demonstrate how the instrumental measurement of human bodies can be considered to be a form of creative practice. It assembles a position based on the work of thinkers from a number of disciplines, particularly philosophy of science, technology, and the medical humanities. These offer examples of ontological frameworks within which the difference between the realm of the instrumental, material, biological, and the objective, and the phenomenal, meaningful and subjective, might be collapsed. Doing this, the thesis sheds light on how physical devices might enter into the interplay of making, mattering and objectifying the immaterial, a realm that it might be considered the role of artists to manifest. Drawing on contemporary, and secondary, accounts of the development of empirical testing in the medical sciences, the thesis agues for the recovery of a romantic account of human physiology, in which the imagination and meaning are active and embodied. It therefore offers to link the bodily and the instrumental through an extended-materialist account in which the physiological, rather than the psychological, is central. Developing a response to constructionist models of the body and instrumentation, the thesis concludes that a model of the poetic may be adopted as a method for understanding the opportunities and imperatives inherent in the avoidance of deterministic approaches to biosignalling technologies. In doing this, the thesis contributes particularly to the creative arts and technology research practices concerned with the use of body sensor technologies in humanistic applications. It complements the existing works by artists in this area that make use of instruments by assembling a number of theoretical readings and interpretations of how instruments work – among them the thermometer, lie detector, and automatograph – which illustrate the argument that that is possible to operate from a theoretical position within which instruments are both material, performative and symbolic.

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