For Deptford X 2019 Sarah Browne presents the UK premier of her new film The Shambles of Science (2019), named after the 1903 diaries of Swedish physiology students Lizzie Lind Af Hageby and Leisa K Schartau. Af Hageby and Schartau were anti-vivisection campaigners and medical students, and their diaries a disquieting document of contentious scientific vivisection practices of the time. Browne’s work conflates an extract of their diaries (which led to a libel case and public controversy known as the Brown Dog Affair), with contemporaneous testimonials written by suffragettes E. Sylvia Pankhurst and Fanny Parker who were force-fed—by men and women—while on hunger strike in HMS Prison Holloway.
Browne allies the abuse of the dogs to that of the women through her use of these accounts by the witnesses and subjects of bodily violence, as well as staged demonstration photographs pertaining to these respective mistreatments. Both women and animals were vulnerable to certain kinds of violence due to philosophical and scientific assumptions about their capacities to both articulate and experience pain. The action of the film stages a contemporary experiment with a pair of characters, human and animal, based on dog cognition games. This is accompanied by a parallel vocal experiment that engages with the written, historical voices used in the film, and a group of ambiguous feminine witnesses. The work blurs questions of accountability whilst forging cross-species alliances through shared vulnerability. Viewers of the film become further witnesses to these events and are invited into the shared responsibility of their interpretation.
Sarah Browne is based in Dublin, Ireland. Her work is concerned with non-verbal, bodily experiences of knowledge and justice. This practice involves sculpture, film, performance and public projects, as well as forms of writing and publishing in diverse contexts.
The Shambles of Science was funded by the Arts Council / An Comhairle Ealaíon and supported by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee