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Prophet to Come

Prophet to Come

Stamps welcomes Dr. Jane Prophet and her expansive approach to collaborative research and making.

Stamps School of Art & Design embraces the powerful innovation found at the intersection of making and inter-disciplinary research, but with the appointment of Dr. Jane Prophet as the incoming Associate Dean for Research, Creative Work, and Strategic Initiatives and Professor of Art and Design, the school is underscoring this value in bold new ways, moving it to the forefront of its curricular efforts. Dr. Prophet comes to Stamps from Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she has served as a tenured professor since 2007, and is internationally recognized for her work in digital and medical humanities, new media art, and art-science. She describes “little or no separation” between the role of making and research in her own practice.

“When I first get an idea, I will do some research on my own,” said Prophet. “Some of my methods might be familiar to artists and researchers from the humanities.” When Prophet was artist in residence at Blickling Hall, a stately home in England, she explored the archives of the UK’s National Trust Slide Library, for example, looking at some of the thousands of archived garden designs as part of her research into the social politics of 18th century garden design.

“Like researchers from many fields, I read a lot of papers — most recently on our perception of air pollution and the impact of air quality on health for an app I am co-designing,” said Prophet. “But equally, my research might entail walking in particular landscape or specific sites or locations. For example, some recent research efforts involved me exploring the nooks and crannies of a heart transplant unit at a hospital and the small house in London where the lexicographer, Samuel Johnson lived and worked as he produced the first English dictionary in the UK. This is usually research I do on my own.”

But Prophet’s intensive and expansive research process is not limited to conducting exploration of a topic on her own — and it is her eagerness and long track record of reaching out to and collaborating with practitioners in other fields that made her such an exciting candidate for this new position at Stamps.

“Most often the people with whom I collaborate are from the sciences — in particular the life sciences and computer science,” said Prophet. Sometimes Prophet is responding to a scientist’s body of research, for example, when she worked with Neil Theise, a pioneer of multi-organ stem cell plasticity from Beth Israel Hospital in New York.

“When Neil and I began to work together, we focused on his groundbreaking research into the behavior of stem cells in the adult human body,” said Prophet. “I spent a long time gaining a better understanding of that field, reading many research papers and having lengthy conversations with the scientist.” This approach is typical of a number of Prophet’s collaborative projects, that engage with the primary research of another person or team. She recently spent three years working with neuroscientists Andreas Roepstorff and Joshua Skewes, from the Interacting Minds Lab at Aarhus University in Denmark, and Zoran Josipovic, from NYU.

“Our work together necessitated me understanding enough about neuroscientific experiment design to co-design an experiment with them,” said Prophet. “Developing that understanding led me to engage in debates at Euro Science Open Forum about the rhetoric of neuroscientific images and the impact of experiment design on ensuing data and its subsequent interpretation. I was responding not only to their particular interests and current research into mindfulness, meditation, and brain activity, but also to wider debates such as the role of gender bias and the power of images in contemporary neuroscience.”

In all of the collaborative projects that Prophet undertakes with scientists, she is concerned not only in their research, and the research that they develop together, but in the context within which that research takes place.

“Specifically, I treat the social, physical and political environments within which the research is situated as mattering as much as the primary research,” said Prophet. “I see no clear boundary or division between the people, the environment, the nonhuman interactors and the overarching social context and the work that they are undertaking.”

Prophet’s view on the relevance and inclusivity of research environments also extends to the media that an artist might use to process and express the results of this research in new works. Her undergraduate work was in media arts, working in performance art and installation that used film, video and sound. Prophet cites her undergraduate tutor, Francis Hegarty, as an important continuing influence on her work — in particular, Hegarty’s critical engagement with media and questioning of the environment in which we make art. This laid the foundation for Prophet’s feminist technoscience approach to how her art emerges from complex entanglements of humans and nonhumans.

“My use of technology comes from my critical engagement, and entanglement, with computation,” said Prophet, whose finished works run the gamut from app designs, physical objects like augmented clothing and photographs, installation works, and video projections.

As Associate Dean for Research, Creative Work, and Strategic Initiatives, Prophet is looking forward to engaging with faculty one-on-one, to begin to understand their individual agendas, and look for ways to support them in those aspirations to reach beyond the bounds of a single discipline or department. Prophet is eager to begin forging interdepartmental connections within U-M, and further, to find opportunities for collaboration with organizations and individuals outside the confines of the university — particularly those with social impact agendas. It’s a lot of information and potential to sort, but one suspects that with Prophet’s appetite for research and engagement, it is a challenge to which she will rise with vigor and aplomb.

Dr. Jane Prophet begins her appointment as incoming Professor and Associate Dean for Research, Creative Work, and Strategic Initiatives on July 1, 2018.