Interests and approach

Intentions, Concepts, Approaches: an interview by Sam Hopkins, artist and curator, Nairobi, Kenya

Sam: How does a thought become a piece?

James: A concept needs to be broken down into more tangible elements. For example, when you talk about perception as a concept - what is a perception? It’s something that people imagine, believe or think. The first thing we needed to do was to interview people and know what they think about KEMRI.

Miriam: The interviews were very useful. Due to the design of our education system, it doesn't connect well to the way people live. A good example that we were given during an interview was of a girl learning how to wash socks in school. For the exam she knows exactly how to answer correctly, but at home when she's asked to wash socks, she'll just put them in water and hang them up. She won't follow the same instructions. The person we were interviewing asked 'Why is there this disconnect?' She associated that disconnect with how people think about science and research, health and the environment. So what we did first was highlight the areas from the interviews that were of key interest or were mentioned several times. From that list we derived five different areas, education being one of them.

James: Also belief and trust, context, money and power, and explorations/experimentation. But one thing the scientists said was that science cannot give absolute answers. We've been tinkering with the idea of what is absolute. We feel that these five areas are within the absolute.

Sam: Do you work with spontaneous ideas or do you plan a course of action?

Miriam: Both. A good example is the glove sketch series. We were thinking: 'What does a glove mean?' and 'How does it relate to issues, such as the relationship between community and science research?' But throwing it in the air was very spontaneous. We intended to photograph them on the ground or hanging from trees, to create a random constellation. Throwing them and seeing how they land on the floor and then photographing them there. And as I flippantly threw them...

James: … they looked brilliant in the air, so we thought, how about photographing them in the air?

Miriam: It was a very spontaneous action within this planned scenario. One thing I've learned in the past and I'm learning even more now is that you've got to have fun. When you have fun and when you play is when some of that really interesting stuff comes out. Often we don't play enough, we plan far too much, and it becomes quite static.

Sam: Some of the images you have been producing do not seem to have an immediately obvious connection to medical research.

James: I don't know if the images necessarily have to be directly linked to Kilifi. We're still exploring. The images from when we started out are very much KEMRI Kilifi, but there is also outside the space, the town, a few of the villages, the paths, and other elements. I think very few things could be specific to anything. Yet it's possible for them actually to be special because of our experience there. So they don't have to be visually representative; it's that the thought was fed by Kilifi.

Miriam: Because we are investigating interconnections and perceptions of, and between, the community and science and health research, I thought it was very important to record what the community and environment looks like. It was an important starting point to look at that environment to be able to investigate it, research it and create visuals of it.

Sam: What are the specific references to your intentions within the residency and the path you expect to follow towards outcomes?

James: We are breaking down perception into five paths: education, belief or trust, contexts, money and power (power is not necessarily money; sometimes, power is your creed, or what you want to push forward), and exploration. We want to create elements that reference these paths. This was very much fed by the idea that people in the community are wondering how much exploration could be done in traditional knowledge systems of health. And within all these, there is the fact that science cannot be an absolute answer.

Miriam: What is also interesting for me within this journey is that it is never enough: there is always going to be space to gain more knowledge. Whether to alleviate, or to make immortal, that drive can never be fully fulfilled. The job of the researcher is never-ending. It is infinite, and I find that bit of infinity really interesting.


Images (top-bottom):

Untitled: Glove Series

Mind Map

Untitled: Glove Series x 2

Patients’ laundry drying at the Kilifi District Hospital

A homestead for one of Kemri’s Community Representatives

Shops in Kilifi town along the road that leads to the Kilifi District Hospital

A woman walking past an abandoned building in Kilifi town

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